Inside Perspective: Professional courtesy and civility

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

Last week’s column spoke about change and how we encounter it in different ways and how we deal with it (or not).  My focus was on career changes and, to demonstrate my point, I used illustrations of how technology has changed over the years and how people reacted to it.  One of the responses I received was from a fellow I did a deal with about 13 years ago.  He works for Yahoo! In Silicon Valley.

Ron Bell wrote:

The biggest recent game changer for me was the day that I:

– received a proposed PowerPoint deck, marked it up in handwriting and sent it back to my client within 15 minutes

– signed a conflict waiver

– wrote five employee performance reviews on a transcontinental flight

– called home to let my family know that I arrived OK.

– let the people I was meeting with know that I was running 15 minutes late, with a real-time update of my location (

The clincher is that Ron did all of this on an iPad without touching a single piece of paper, generating a print out, or using a telephone. (Compare to thoughts expressed in an earlier column “Think” where the danger of replacing thoughtful reflection with technology is considered:  )

The meaningful piece of this anecdote is not so much the proficiency with which Ron is using technology in his practice.  Rather, the fact that Ron took time to write back to me and provide a meaningful comment to the column impressed me greatly.  I think this happened for a number of reasons.

The deal that Ron and I worked on was a first of its kind dealing with some of the most interesting issues that might crop up in the world of internet retailing.  This was not cookie cutter; we were on the frontier navigating unknown waters and applying our legal expertise in ways not considered when we were in law school, and it was a big deal.  So the work was extremely interesting.

We were working on very tight timelines.  In fact, I read the contract for the first time on the flight to San Jose with my clients, counseled them on the plane and presented the first revision to Yahoo! shortly after landing.  Business people and lawyers then met in a tiny Yahoo! conference room and negotiated the heck out of that contract – real time.  After eighteen hours staring at one another without a break, we had finished.

Engaging, pioneering work, tight timelines, anxious clients in the room –  these factors gave rise to an environment where the two lawyers needed to trust each other.  But how could either one of us trust the other having just met one another moments earlier?

Ron and I defined the rules of the road, if you will, before we started.  In keeping with standard practice, we agreed who would have control over the document and how the various changes would make their way onto paper in the way that each side intended.  Most importantly, I looked Ron in the eye and told him that I will not play games, I will do what I say I am going to do, and I will say what I mean.  I told Ron he could trust me.  Likewise Ron affirmed to me that he was of the same ilk.

Neither one of us proceeded on blind faith but, after some time testing each other and figuring out the other’s style, we realized that indeed we were on the same page and would be able to work together well to serve our respective clients.

During the process we demonstrated mutual respect for one another.  Belittling, bullying and embarrassing your negotiating partner is not the best way to achieve results.  I respected not only Ron’s technical skill and background and his zealous (but professional) representation of his client, but also his ability and desire to work with me, which was evident in his approach.  I believe he felt similarly.  We both wanted to get the deal done and were not interested in puffing ourselves up to impress our clients.  Our respect for each other likewise set the tone for the business negotiations, which went much smoother than we had anticipated because the right tone had been set at the start.

Over the years since the deal, I have not seen Ron but I have spoken to him a handful of times on the phone (none of which was business related).  I continue to respect his professional accomplishments and the way in which he handles himself and others under difficult circumstances.

For every Ron Bell, there are 20 lawyers who I would never want to speak to again.  That is why it is very important to remember that your reputation precedes you in everything you do.  Make sure that yours is stellar.  Ron Bell is one of the good ones, a lawyer of which our profession should be proud.  To be sure, if you ever have Ron across the table from you on a transaction – he will give you a run for the money, but he is a man of his word and you can trust him.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all could say that about every lawyer with whom we have worked over the years?


One response to “Inside Perspective: Professional courtesy and civility

  1. Thanks Dan. I fully agree with your comments. Trust and Respect are the keys to success in every aspect of business.

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