Twas a gloomy and wet Saturday morning on the third day of February and all was quiet in the City of London. Except of course at The University of Law, where the Society for Computers and Law hosted their first ever Student Tech Law challenge.
The day saw over 40 pairs of students living a day in the life of a tech lawyer by advising Jedi Digital and the Empire Media Group (guess the theme) on issues relating to a data breach and negotiating an IT deal for the two parties. In particular, the competitors put their skills and knowledge to the test by advising their clients on a number of legal and commercial issues that are currently concerning tech law practice.
Judging and mentoring at the event was also a great reminder that it is the season for assessment centres and interviews. Through speaking with the competitors and giving feedback, it was clear that the day also offered a great way for them to practice the skills that are usually tested. So here is my unsolicited general advice that I gave during the day:
Client Briefing Task
Without giving too much away, the context in this task was that the students were given a brief outlining a recent data breach. Subsequently, they had to prepare some advice that they would deliver to their client in a 10-minute presentation regarding their position.
In general, this task was designed to assess a number of key skills:
- In delivering the advice make sure that your presentation is clear and structured and that your client (assessor) is able to understand what next steps to take as a result of your advice.
- If you are delivering this advice verbally, don’t forget to make eye contact and address your client directly.
- If this exercise is being done in pairs, try not to speak over your teammate and ensure you both have an equal chance to address your client.
- This type of task is a great opportunity for you to display that all magical nugget that most firms are looking for- commercial awareness. As well as referencing recent cases and the news, try and think of what other practical issues your client might want to consider in such a situation that indicate you know the commercial issues that may affect a business in their position. For example, it could be simple practical advice such as reputation management and addressing the press, steps to guarding against insolvency by analysing the potential poor cash flow that could result through a loss of trust, and potentially other contracts, in such a data breach etc.
- As well as identifying the commercial issues, this is also testing whether or not you are able to identify key legal issues as provided for in the scenario, so for example generally, what may your client be liable for, are they open to the risk of a court case, what laws may apply and in which jurisdictions, and so on.
- Again, don’t forget to deliver the separate potential next steps that could be taken for each issue addressed. Alongside this, a brief analysis of the work that might be required e.g. timescales or resources that the client would need to consider in remedying their issue etc.
The usual format of this is as follows, in pairs participants are given information relating to their client with specific instructions and information that the opposing side do not have and vice versa. Although the instinct may be to destroy the other side in a Harvey Spector-esque display of showmanship by winning at all costs, the exercise is testing your ability to successfully reach an amicable conclusion and most likely ensure that your client’s project(s) continue whilst avoiding litigation.
It might be difficult under the pressure of the assessment and wanting to be marked favourably, but it helps to remember that in the context of a real negotiation, it is likely that both sides want to ultimately avoid litigation, additional costs being incurred and continuing in their projects.
- Identify the most important issues, not all discussion points are created equal here. In particular, be aware of red herrings that are designed to get you potentially arguing for issues that are probably not that important in the bigger scheme of things.
- Demonstrate good concession management in order to achieve the desired outcomes for both sides, this doesn’t mean let the other side walk all over you, but at the same time balance the ability to be flexible between maintaining a strong stance on certain points for your client versus conceding on issues that are probably not as important.
- Team work, makes the dream work and successful negotiations ensure that both members and sides get an equal chance in voicing their arguments, amicably.
- Ultimately, were you able to achieve the most important objectives outlined by your client? By assessing which issues were important as outlined in point one, you will be assessed on how successful the outcome of the session was overall and how you worked with the other side.
- Lastly, be ethical in negotiations! A great book to check out in general is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William L. Ur
And there we have it, hopefully this helps. And once again well done to all the participating teams. As a judge and mentor on behalf of the Society for Computers and Law, it was encouraging and exciting for me to see that so many other undergraduates and graduates are interested in the general topic of how technology is affecting legal practice, and I am glad I have a platform that permits me to shape the future of legal tech in a small way!