Negotiation consultants David Lax and James Sibelius, authors of the excellent book 3D Negotiation, have a new working paper out on what they call the "Negotiation Campaign." In it, they argue that the most successful negotiators do not consider their jobs to involve a single, big negotiation. Instead, they are engaged in a sequence of negotiations–some internal, some external–that ideally will bring about the desired big deal.

[C]onsider Boeing’s $11 billion sale of 787 Dreamliners and other planes to Air India in late 2005. A naïve understanding of this transaction might envision two monolithic entities, Boeing and Air India, hammering out the terms, overcoming a price gap and cross-cultural differences. Yet the messy reality leading to that ultimate target deal involved an extended negotiation campaign: literally dozens of individual but linked negotiations, orchestrated on several fronts, involving an array of parties over time and across borders. Negotiations on internal corporate fronts garnered support and approval from the engineering, operations, finance, and marketing divisions, as well as top executives and boards of directors. Negotiations on the external financial front involved banks, export promotion agencies, and leasing companies. And given the Indian state’s ownership stake in the airline, negotiations on the political/national front concluded with Boeing agreeing to partner with Indian manufacturers to supply a certain amount of domestic content and to create local maintenance and pilot training organizations. Successfully orchestrating these component negotiations on multiple fronts finally generated sufficient support for the record-breaking target contract.

(Emphases in original.)

This provides a useful way of looking at class-action practice. The applications for plaintiffs’ counsel are obvious: they frequently sue more than one defendant, and often have to consider each defendant’s general counsel’s office, board of directors, and insurance companies in offering any kind of settlement package. But there are applications for defense counsel as well, because defense counsel often have to negotiate on multiple fronts.

  • They must negotiate on an internal front with their clients, finding out what their strategy is, and in turn letting them know what is and is not possible. And, of course, clients are not always monolithic. There may be competing factions within a GC’s office, or the GC may need to convince the CEO or other executives of the importance of various strategies.
  • * Defense counsel often also has to negotiate on a regulatory front, where compromises made with attorneys general or other administrators can have consequences in later negotiations. (I’ve talked before about the ways in which regulatory compliance and class-action defense overlap.)
  • * And, of course, defense counsel must negotiate on a litigation front with plaintiffs’, often–when different counsel bring competing or overlapping lawsuits–more than one.

Or, as Lax & Sibelius put it:

While doing one deal well requires a certain set of skills, designing and executing a broader negotiation campaign calls for a more strategic approach: artfully putting a number of deals together, often on multiple fronts, to realize a larger result, typically an ultimate target agreement with sufficient support in the right quarters to make it stick. In other cases, negotiation campaigns aim to block undesirable outcomes or shore up negotiating weakness at the target table.

(Emphases in original.)

This consideration of negotiation as a campaign instead of individual engagements is not revolutionary. It’s just grand strategy by another name, something the best class-action lawyers have long had to master. But Lax and Sibelius don’t have to be revolutionary, they just have to be very good at explaining what they mean, and breaking it down into a series of usable steps. And that they do, quite well.

Go, read. I promise it’s worth it.