Legal Intimidation: 5 Ways To Defend Against It

Don't let the threat of going to court cost you a negotiation
Don’t let the threat of going to court cost you a negotiation

Hear any good lawyer jokes lately? When we are negotiating we like to think that we’re prepared for almost any possibility. However, there’s one thing that can cause the blood of even a seasoned negotiator to run cold: the threat of legal action. All of the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques in the world aren’t going to help you now. What’s a negotiator to do?

Why We Fear Lawyers So Much

So exactly why do negotiators fear legal intimidation so much? It’s my opinion that we view the world of the legal system, no matter what country you are working in, as being a bit of a “black box”. We don’t know how it works. It’s not something that can be negotiated away.

The only people who seem to understand the legal system are lawyers. That means that when the other side of the table uses legal intimidation as part of the negotiation process in order to get their way during a negotiation, they’ll bring in the lawyers.

In today’s hurry-up world, the use of legal intimidation brings with it two threats. The first is that it’s going to cost a lot of money to resolve. Lawyers generally get paid by the hour and they can charge anywhere from $350 -$1,000 per hour. You can see how things can get very expensive very quickly.

The other implied threat that any sort of legal intimidation brings with it is the threat of slowing the whole negotiation process down. Legal action involves courts, paperwork, and a lot of time to prepare for. This all takes away from the business of negotiating and that can’t be a good thing.

How You Can Defend Against Legal Intimidation

If we can all agree that legal intimidation is a big scary thing, this naturally leads to the next question: what can a negotiator do about it? Just threat of legal action by the other side can sometimes tip the negotiations in their favor and we need to find a way to fight back.

Here are 5 ways that any negotiator can respond in a powerful fashion when the other side starts to use legal intimidation:


  • Understand That They Are Buffing: Although the threat of taking legal action sounds serious, we need to understand that more often than not it’s just talk on the other side’s part. Legal action costs money, potentially a lot of money, and so just because they are making threats doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to do anything.



  • Financially Prepare: The effectiveness of using legal intimidation against you can be minimized if you have already factored it into your negotiation preparations. This can be as simple as determining how much going to court would cost and making sure that you have a way to get the funds that you would need if it comes to that.



  • Consider Mediation: Going to court should be considered to be a last resort. A much better way to resolve any issues that appear to be forcing both sides into making a courtroom appearance would be to sit down with a mediator. This is always a good idea because it just might prevent a costly legal battle.



  • Get Good Legal Advice: When it comes to legal matters, you don’t know what you don’t know. This means that you really need to have access to a lawyer if for no other reason than to ask them questions as your negotiations proceed. The fancy term for this is to place a lawyer “on retainer” where you pay them money to be available to help you out.



  • Pick The Best: If all else fails and you find yourself headed off to court, then you need to get yourself the best lawyer that your money can buy. You really want to take the time and do some research here: have they dealt with this type of case before and what was the outcome? Do your homework and choose wisely – there’s a lot riding on your decision.


What All Of This Means For You

I think that we can all agree on one thing: lawyers are scary. However, when we are negotiating we need to understand that the other side will use legal intimidation in order to get their way – it has almost become part of the negotiation definition. We need to be prepared.

Realistically, we need to understand that going to court is expensive and time consuming for everyone. Therefore, most of the time legal threats are just that – threats. However, we need to take steps to defend ourselves. We can do this by contacting a lawyer and having them ready if things go badly for us.

When it comes to legal intimidation, fighting back is possible and needs to part of your principled negotiation techniques. You just need to know the rules of the game and then come to your next negotiation prepared for what the other side may legally throw at you. Keep in mind, justice is blind…!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you ever think that bringing your lawyer to the negotiating table would be a good move?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So let’s think about your next negotiating session. There you are and everything is going along quite nicely. You are making your points and the other side doesn’t seem to be objecting to them too much. All of a sudden another person arrives and joins the other side of the table. They are introduced as an expert and they then proceed to tear big holes in the justifications that you had given for the deal that you were proposing. Dang it – done in by an expert once again.