As registered nurses, we were trained to give and to take care of others. But to successfully manage your legal nurse consulting business you must also be a strong negotiator, willing to ask for what you want and what you need. Nursing hasn’t trained you to negotiate, but luckily, you’re born negotiators even though you don’t necessarily think about it that way. You negotiate with patients about taking their meds. You negotiate with doctors to assure the appropriate medical orders are written for the patient. You negotiate with hospital administrators for safe staffing and delegation. You are always negotiating as an RN, and usually it’s for the benefit of someone other than yourself, although you also negotiate with the cafeteria to keep the food from killing you and you negotiate your way through shifts with issues that would make lesser mortals weep.
When you walk into an interview with an attorney, you’ll be using your negotiation skills on behalf of yourself and your legal nurse consulting business.
Attorneys are masters at negotiation, so use these inside strategies learned through 39 years of mentoring Certified Legal Nurse Consultants to gain the confidence and know-how to negotiate with the best of the best.
- Ask for everything you want at the beginning of the negotiation. Don’t add on as you go along. It makes you seem unfair and looks like you’re just pushing the envelope to get more. For example, if you tell an attorney your fee is $150/hr and his reply is “That’s very reasonable,” you can’t jump in and say, “I really want $175/hr.”
Be prepared and think through what is really important to you and your legal nurse consulting business before you sit down to negotiate. Have your list of what points you need and what points you’re willing to give up. Some people do keep score and being able to track what you really need will help you determine your negotiating success.
- Ask for more than you think you can get and don’t jump too fast to say “yes” to the first offer someone makes; even if you think it’s fair. Assess the situation and the person making the offer. Use and trust your strength of intuitive vision to diagnose how far you can go. This is not being greedy, this is being a strong negotiator. And you’d be surprised at what offer could be around the corner. It’s yours for the taking if you only ask for it.
I mentored a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant on a toxic tort case involving 40 plaintiffs. The attorney firmly told her that instead of her hourly fee, he would pay her a flat rate for each of the 40 cases because he felt there would be a lot of “cut and paste” from one case to another.
The CLNC® consultant was convinced that she would lose this large project unless she agreed to the attorney’s terms. My advice was to stand firm on her hourly fee because she had no way of knowing before the reviews which cases would be simple, and which would be complex. Locking herself into a flat fee per case could cost her. Even though the plaintiffs all shared the same toxic exposure, they each were sure to have different medical histories (some more complex than others) which could influence causation. Not to mention the variation in the volume of medical records to sort through. The attorney would still benefit from any efficiencies she gained as she worked on the cases even with an hourly billing structure. Likewise, she would not risk losing money on the deal. The CLNC® consultant stood firm on her fee structure, and as I predicted, the attorney agreed to her hourly rate.
You must be willing to walk away from a deal, especially when that deal is not favorable to you. If you don’t like the deal with one attorney, remember there are more than 1,300,000 more attorneys waiting for you to call.
- Do not get emotional during negotiations. Appear detached even if you’re not. I negotiated a contract with a guy who was very emotional. Every time he took off on a point, I’d let him vent and then ask him what he didn’t like about that point. I calmly listened to his concerns and nicely pointed out how the contract supported both parties. As the negotiation went on and his rants slowly ran out, his blood pressure (and my anxiety level) came down. I conceded a number of little points because I knew he was keeping score and would have to win. I stuck to my guns on the important ones. Those points that I needed to win or at least couldn’t bend on, I blamed on my attorney, saying “I’d really like to do this but my attorney feels it’s necessary that I….” This took the pressure off me and helped to end what could have been a line of arguments. We hammered out a deal that was fair to both of us. Know in advance the points that you must win and what you can give up.
- Don’t assume your bargaining power is weak just because your business is smaller or that you need the deal more than the other party. Negotiating can be challenging when faced with the perception of uneven power positions, but weakness is one thing you can’t allow the other side to see. I have rewritten entire contracts sent to me from companies way bigger than mine who claim they can only use their contract with no changes. But I prevailed and they used mine!
Go in knowing and believing in what you have to bring to the business relationship. Even if you believe the attorney-prospect holds the power card, don’t underestimate your unique selling position and how it benefits the attorney-prospect. It’s your job to educate the attorney about how you can make a positive difference in the outcome of his cases.
- Never say anything off the record – “Just between you and me, I want ‘X’ but I’ll settle for ‘Y.'” In negotiations everything is on the record and if you say that, more than likely you will end up with “Y” or even less than “Y.”
- Never let the other party bully you or treat you in a paternalistic manner. I’ve worked with plenty of attorneys, met some very tough negotiators and seen many different negotiation styles at work. Surprisingly, it was a non-attorney who negotiated like a pit bull. Realizing what I was up against, I took a long walk and role-played with Tom. Role-playing helped me to anticipate every possible objection and get myself into a Zen-like state. When it came time to negotiate for real, I was centered and ready for him and we reached a win-win. If I’d gone head-to-head with him, like two pit bulls, instead of handling it as I did, the negotiations would have failed.
Use these 6 strategies the next time you are negotiating with an attorney.
Success Is Yours,
Vickie Milazzo Institute
P.S. Comment and share your negotiation strategies and stories of successful negotiating.