Preparing for Negotiation

By John Allison, J.D., The Coach for Lawyers, LLC


When preparing for a negotiation on behalf of a client, the first step is to set aside the adversarial mindset. The goal of a negotiation is not to win an argument or to convince the other party that your client’s position is correct. Instead, a negotiation gives the participants an opportunity to engage in a conversation that may enable them to find common ground and reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

Thorough preparation is essential. Understand what your client wants to achieve and what your client wants to avoid. Are there any matters that your client considers to be non-negotiable? Is there a range of outcomes that would be acceptable to your client? How does the matter being negotiated affect your client’s broader interests?

Remember to look beyond the legal issues and the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ legal positions. Consider questions such as these:

  • What factors might motivate the parties to reach an agreement?
  • Where does your client have leverage?
  • Where does the other party have leverage, and what can you do to mitigate that leverage?
  • Are personal values or matters of principle likely to be involved for the other party?
  • What is the emotional content of the matter being negotiated, and how can you best deal with the emotional issues?
  • What can you learn online about the other party and about opposing counsel that might have a bearing on the negotiation?

The final step in preparing for a negotiation is for you and your client to decide what the client’s role will be. In any negotiation, one person should be the lead negotiator so that a consistent message is delivered to the other party.


About the author
John Allison practiced law for a number of years as a law firm partner in Seattle and as Assistant General Counsel at 3M Company, and now provides coaching, mentoring and law practice consulting services for lawyers.  He has written three books, including The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers.  For more information, visit