Mary Abraham, KM blogger and Queen of Alternative Presentation Formats (APF) approached me about putting together something unique for the 2012 ILTA Conference. With the assistance of Geek #1 and our traditional 3 Beer Solution approach I came up with a fun idea. The session would be a mock fee negotiation between a law firm and a client. We would ‘lift our skirts’ and show the audience what goes on when law firms and clients talk about fees to give attendees a richer understanding of the challenges and hopefully some ideas for how they can help support the process. Mary loved the idea but added a twist: Involve the audience.

To accomplish this we would set up the room with two separated groups of chairs. During negotiations, we would halt the conversation and then each side of the room would become either the ‘client team’ or the ‘law firm team.’ Audience members would give input on what they thought was important and how we might approach the next stage of the negotiation.

Now we just needed two willing victims to serve as law firm and client. As you might guess, I took on the role of the law firm. And having crossed paths with the impressive and delightful Lisa Girmscheid at Rockwell Automation, I convinced her to join me.

The prep calls with Lisa alone were worth the whole effort. Our conversations were both enlightening and enjoyable. She had a number of actual fee deals (minus the numbers) she used in past presentations to work from. So we sketched out the basic factors for each deal and even had one we designated to ‘go bad’ resulting in a lost deal. In total we had four deals, with the fourth one serving as a back-up, in case we made it through the first three. The session was set for 90 minutes, which is fairly long for a presentation.

We barely made it through the first deal.

First off – the audience was completely engaged. In some respects it was fun to watch how quickly some law firm AFA people were able to take on a client persona. People were tossing out all kinds of creative and interesting ideas for how we could make this work. For someone who does this for a living, I actually learned a number of valuable lessons from that interaction.

With people fully vested in their positions it was great to see how the whole group became focused on success. I know I continually hammer on the need for clients and law firms to have conversations about fees, but to witness it in such a dynamic environment was bliss. And the result was definitely success. From the law firm side, we obtained a deal we could live with, even though we knew it would challenge us to be significantly more efficient. From the client side, they seemed quite pleased with the savings and partnering arrangement we constructed.

At the end of the session Lisa and I let the group know they had just witnessed a ‘best case scenario,’ with two seasoned professionals and a dedicated group driving a win-win solution.

Afterwards, Lisa and I shared our impressions with each other. We were both struck by how much we had personally learned over and above what we witnessed with the audience’s learning. And we both very much enjoyed the entire experience.

Two Thoughts:
1) Love the APF approach. So, thanks Mary for getting us involved
2) We may have raised the bar too high. Now we’ll have to be extremely creative next year. But hey – with Mary’s help and the 3 Beer Solution, it will all be good.