Brexit negotiations: much can be learned from divorce lawyers

23 January 2019 | Applicable law: England and Wales

Out of the blue, BBC news asked me to comment on how to negotiate a deal, in the context of the Brexit debacle.

At first blush, you might wonder what a family lawyer can add to the Brexit debate but it is not as strange as it might first sound. Why? Because to serve our client's interests, even when we are litigating, we are negotiating or planning how and when next to negotiate.

When it comes to negotiating a deal – whether it's Brexit or in my role as a family lawyer dealing with divorce, finances, children disputes or a pre-nup, my advice is:

  1. Get the right team together; don't compromise and look outside of the box. I'm fortunate as I have a strong team around me here.

  2. Understand your client. It's my job to advise on options, find out what is important to my client, what compromises can be made and when, what's non-negotiable, agree where the red line is and what the consequences will be if that red line is crossed.

  3. Know your opponent and find out what is important to them. This is harder than getting to know your client, as you don't have direct access to them, but there will be clues in the discussions. Also make sure you know the roles of everyone in that team and who are influencing decisions. In a divorce many people play a part in concluding the deal, but some of them may not be at the negotiating table, such as wider family members, trustees etc. Work out how to influence them too.

  4. Perhaps basic, but sometimes missed - know your facts and your case. Then you can be clear and confident with your client and with the opponent about the benefits of a deal, but warn of the consequences of failure. In every family case there are uncertainties about the outcome, but knowing the parameters of realistic outcomes is key.

  5. Create your strategy early and execute it precisely. However, be flexible and open minded as the situation changes or new facts or objectives appear. I work with clients on creating the strategy from day one but we always have a plan B and sometimes many more if things change.

  6. Listen. In every situation, whether it's a divorce or a political standoff you need to listen, look at the big picture and the commercial / practical and (in divorce, the personal) realities of the situation.

  7. Identify where the red lines are, and be prepared to stick to what you have said are the consequences of those being crossed. In a divorce that sometimes means walking away from the negotiations and being prepared to litigate.

  8. Be clever, creative and come up the unique solution. Each client's needs are different and it's about delivering an outcome that works for them.

The author, Claire Blakemore features in the BBC video below.

BBC News: The secret to a good deal, according to the professionals.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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