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  • Writer's pictureMick Coleman

BE MORE COMMERCIAL - on making life easy for clients

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

This piece is my tribute to my clients over the years who have given me this feedback, which many a commercial lawyer has heard - “Mick seems like a good lawyer. At times he could BE MORE COMMERCIAL.”

This is not bad feedback. It shows you are doing your job, and making your presence felt as the lawyer in the room. It is a stage direction that allows the actor plenty of latitude what to do in response. Carrying on as before is OK.

So is being more commercial a state of mind? A gift? No. It’s a bunch of practical stuff you can do. Box Forest has a program and some guidance to help. Here are some highlights.

1. Know your product – think about what you actually deliver as product. Contracts, emails, advices, letters, policies, compliance/sign-off, slide packs, document control, running meetings, leading negotiations, air of authority, meeting notes. Use your kit bag.

2. Fit for purpose – don’t write the same way to your client the CEO as you do to a litigator on the other side.

3. Tailoring is not dumbing down – lawyers who convert plain English into legalese irritate me. Sure, legalese has a place – court documents, settlement agreements etc. But write simply when it’s called for.

4. Show and tell – the cover email is your most accessible product. When you send a document, nurture your client through why it is like it is.

5. Housekeeping – at the start of a negotiation or dispute meeting, calm the horses and run the check-in. Who is in the meeting? Which version of the document? And recap at the end.

6. Flickable advice – all the rage at Telstra. When sending an email for the client, write it so they can flick it straight on. Harder than it sounds. I train juniors on this.

7. Don’t boss your clients – another irritation – lawyers who tell their clients or the other side “we require …”. You advise, you explain, you propose, but you don’t get to require anything.

8. Venture boldly – commercial people are better than lawyers at going out on limbs. Inevitably mistakes are made. Their world doesn’t collapse. Offer something even if you’re not 100% sure.

9. No smart-arsery – a Telstra client taught me this. We swapped emails about selling some network technology to Optus. An external lawyer wrote up the contract. My client read it and said – those defined terms don’t work. Those products don’t exist. Don’t make shit up.

To conclude – OK, you can’t do all those things all the time. The final lesson is, don’t sweat it too much. Sometimes when the client thinks you’re not commercial, that’s you doing your job.

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