Structured Negotiation: a Winning Alternative to Lawsuits
Reviwed by John M. Williams
written by famed civil rights attorney Lainey Feingold
Structured Negotiation, a Winning Alternative to Lawsuits by Lainey Feingold, published by the American Bar Association, 196 pages, $42.95, reviewed by John M. Williams.
I have known Lainey Feingold for several decades personally and from what I heard through others and articles about her victories. I do not know a better civil rights lawyer for disabled people in the country than Lainey. When I read that Lainey had written a book I immediately contacted her and asked her to get me a copy so I could review it. When I finished reading, I was smiling. StructuredNegotiation : a Winning Alternative to Lawsuits is a winner. I liked the book for a variety of reasons.
First. SN … is well written. There isn’t a sentence, page, paragraph, or chapter that can’t be easily understood by anyone.. In writing the book, Lainey followed the KISS (Keep It Simple Student) approach to education. As I read the book, I felt as though I am a student and Lainey is my teacher. She is more than a teacher. She is a revolutionary teaching a new approach to settle disputes without going to court. Her successes in using SN to settle disputes proves she is correct.
Second. The book conveyed many messages to me. One of the important messages this book has seared into my memory is SN shows the persuasive influence of using friendly language in settling disputes. There is a line in the movie Taras Bulba, when Tara’s son Andre is called a coward, Andre is challenged to a duel. Andre’s mother says, “Taras. It’s only a word.” Taras replies, “There are some words men must die for.”
The following morning Andre and his challenger duel it out. Andre’s challenger dies unnecessarily.
Lainey isn’t asking anyone to die. Rather she points out that for SN…. to be successful, combative language must be dropped from the conversation. “Plaintiff,” “war,” “aggression,” “testing,” “defendant,” opposing counsel,” and “discriminator” are part of a vocabulary of aggression. Those terms and other legal terms do not belong in SN…. They poison the atmosphere. They can kill negotiations. A more congenial vocabulary inspires opposing sides to work in harmony.
Third.. Lainey points out that in 2001 when Bank of America negotiator Bill Raymond was profiled in an industry journal after his company completed a SN regarding accessible ATM’s, Raymond pointed out that making ATM’s accessible to blind people is the right thing to do. ” The sheer joy of watching a blind person using it (ATM) is worth the trip.” SN has the power to turn potential foes into allies
The author quotes corporate executive Susan Mazrui, who has been blind since she was a teenager. “People want an excuse to do the right thing. Frequently they don’t even know they are doing the wrong thing. If you get too adversarial, corporate inclination is to do the minimum.The collaborator of SN allows for a different result.,” said Mazrui.
Lainey adds one more anecdote. She writes, TransUnion’s lawyer Denise Norgle unearthed another reason for the ability of SN to turn potential adversaries into cooperative partners. Had we sued, Norgle’s company would have been a defendant. Since we did not she says, “The credit reporting companies felt good about working with you and your clients in the process.”
Fourht. ,Another message that the book drilled deep to my brain is Structured Negotiation can solve problems in much less the time than going to court. This saves money, reduces bitterness among the participants and yields other benefits that a prolonged court battle does not.
Fifth. The book presented me with a gentler picture of chief executives officers than I believed possible. Throughout most of my life, my image of CEOs has been that of someone who is fanatically driven to ensure that his company is financially successful at any cost. SN gives me a totally different picture of CEOs of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Wal-Mart, CVS Health, Anthem,, Inc., Kaiser Permanente, Massachusetts General Hospital, Safeway, Trader Vic’s, Denny’s and Major League Baseball. I see kinder, gentler and more reasonable CEOs who see the value of structured negotiations.
If I was a novice lawyer looking for ways to solve a client’s problems, I would try SN. Fortunately, for the lawyer, Lainey lays out many steps for the lawyer to follow. She advises lawyers seeking to resolve conflicts through SN to seek the advice of lawyers using SN.
Since I am not a lawyer, I don’t know if SN is taught in law schools. If it is not, it should be. If it is, the teachers should use SN as their Bible and introduce SN to their students. There is plenty of information in this book that can serve the legal profession well.
Lainey sums up the goals of her book, when in a section titled Conclusion, she writes, “Let us teach a new generation of law students that collaboration does not mean weakness. That settle is not synonymous with “settle for less,” and that winning can mean long lasting victory for everyone. Let us teach those students –and those whose student days are far behind them – how patience is an active negotiation strategy and how being kind gets results…..And as a profession let us expand our vocabulary so we have options besides “defending,” opposing,” and “demanding.” Structured Negotiation offers the tools to accomplish these goals.
If I was a consumer with a complaint against a corporation, I would also use this book. I would find out if my lawyer had it, if he did not, I would lend it to him.
When I finished reading the book immediately the concept for a play or movie hit me. I saw two lawyers working for the same law firm arguing over whether the firm should settle a case for a client by going to court versus settling the case through SN. The older, more experienced attorney wants to go to court. The younger, idealistic attorney wants to settle the case trough SN. Both attorneys are sure of their positions; their differences are laid out in front of other lawyers in their firm. A vote by all the members is called for. The play ends as the members start voting.
Structured Negotiation; A winning Alternative to Lawsuits is a book worth buying, worth reading and worth using.