Red Rag to a Bull

My opponent was a partner in a prestigious New York law firm. He was a bull of a man. His favoured negotiating technique was simply to put his head down and charge.

This is not uncommon among New York lawyers. Initially of course you must stand your ground, or he will wipe the floor with you. But repeated clashes resolve nothing, and do little to further the negotiation. At worst you can end up with locked horns, like two stags in the rutting season.

You have to find a way to outflank him, to turn the charge. There is no formula for this, of course. Everything depends on the commercial situation and the personalities involved.

My opponent made a tiny concession, on an issue of little importance, and announced that this was a major concession for which we should be grateful.

I remarked to my colleagues: “Ah well, many a mickle makes a muckle, as the Scots say.”

The bull put his head down and charged: “What does that mean? What the hell are you talkin abaat?” As innocently as I could, I replied: “I have no idea what it means. It is just what the Scots say.”

There were at least twenty people in the room, and the laughter confirmed that the lance had found its mark. No lawyer likes to be laughed at in front of his clients.

Gradually he became less inclined to charge. As he became less aggressive, I became more direct.

In the course of the deal I became friends with this New York bull. When it was finished he offered me a job in his firm. That is another of our Tales from the Arena.


See also: Abstract Art / New York


Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.