I had today’s column dealing with confidentiality provisions all set to go. However, given the Baylor Law School fiasco, I changed topics to another very contentious issue in business-to-business terms and conditions negotiations: data security. I will take some liberties with the factual scenario of the Baylor data release in order to make the issue more relevant to those of us in-house.
Let’s assume that instead of an employee of Baylor’s admissions office allegedly being responsible for the data release, it was an outside contractor who had been hired to perform data collection for Baylor. Let’s further assume that the contractor acted negligently in releasing the information. Finally, let’s assume that Baylor’s legal counsel vetted the Agreement and Statement of Work (“SOW”) between Baylor and the contractor, and included a data security provision. What should happen now that prospective students’ personal information, including LSAT scores and GPA, are in the public domain? I would begin by stanching the bleeding and assessing the damage….
By the time I made the switch to in-house work, I was burned out on litigating. Some of my friends and colleagues live for the fight, or as Wallerstein recently said, “have a fire in their belly.” In my case, I just couldn’t draft yet another motion to compel, interrogatory, etc. I had been doing it so long that it had become mundane. Appearing in court was always a kick, and depositions could be entertaining, but the day to day fun had dissipated.
Due to the economy and firm billing practices, I found myself at times resorting to noting “.1s” on my time sheets. So, when my bio says I don’t miss litigation, I really don’t. And what I don’t miss most of all is the bluster of the powerful down to the less leveraged.
In litigation, bluster can begin as soon as the adversary reads your bio and decides that you are not quite a peer. This inappropriate elitism only worsens when one side gains the upper hand for whatever reason; the bluster ends, and the bludgeoning begins….
In the last installment of Moonlighting, we examined the importance of understanding the big picture at work. This week, we’ll consider one method of finding out more about the big picture: asking questions. Not the dumb ones. The good ones. So what are some good questions that can help us to see the bigger picture?
I solicited input from several general counsels, assistant GCs, etc., in different industries and here’s what they came up with. I know, I was surprised they got back to me too. I don’t know whether it had anything to do with the teeny white lie I told them — that they would be compensated for their answers with untold riches and fame — it’s a mystery. But here is what they said…
* A bill to legalize gay marriage in New Jersey has passed in the state Senate. If this passes in the state Assembly, will Chris Christie put the kibosh on it? Someone better make him a faaabulous offer he can’t refuse. [Wall Street Journal]
* They might not be the most stylish bunch, but without lawyers (and the contracts they write), events like New York Fashion Week wouldn’t happen. Models, please keep that in mind while you do your little turn on the catwalk. [Reuters]
Lawyers are great at thinking small — small picture, that is. We’re awesome at details, however painstakingly minor. We sport the “grammar police” badge proudly, even though we know that it’s the dorkiest one out there (wait, except for the “I memorized all of the two-letter words in Scrabble” badge — that one’s slightly dorkier). We find nit-picky, meaningless, hypothetical debates to be “intellectually stimulating,” while the rest of the world sees them as a complete and utter waste of time. And it’s all good. Details are essential to the practice of law. But so is seeing the big picture.
A law firm associate friend once represented a bank on a loan in which the borrower later ended up missing a payment date. Upon learning of the missed payment, he promptly drafted a default notice. When he presented the default notice to the law firm partner, the partner’s reaction was, “Whoa, Nelly… hold on there — no way are we sending any default notice.”
The associate was thinking small picture — how dare the borrower miss a payment to his client! In full gunner mode, he proceeded to take steps to ensure that the bank was paid the monies due (and, by the way, now at a default interest rate — haha!). He was only trying to zealously represent his client, right? Right? The partner, on the other hand, was thinking big picture….
I’m writing this wearing my new bifocals. They take some getting used to after years of regular glasses and contacts. But, after watching me examine small print like I was Mr. Magoo, my wife convinced me that it was time to take a symbolic plunge toward middle age. I admit to no small amount of trepidation at the prospect of wearing “old folks” glasses. But the risk of not seeing properly finally outweighed my vanity, and a change had to be made.
And so it goes with some legal decisions in-house. When faced with a dilemma, you weigh the risks versus rewards, and pull the trigger on what you hope is the right decision.
In a company the size of mine, people have performed risk/reward analyses on legal issues for years, down to the proper placement of semicolons in contract clauses. To borrow from the iPhone ads, yep, there’s a committee for that. We have Lean Six Sigma belts of all colors who are subject matter experts in every facet of our business. There are folks with many years of experience, who own any number of policies from which I am to draw when making decisions. It sounds on paper like filling in the blanks will get you where you need to go, but that is far from reality.
In a perfect world, for my job anyway, a Customer would receive a proposed agreement, see the inherent fairness in the document (and the work that went into carefully crafting all those clauses and semicolons), and sign on the dotted line. But sadly, life isn’t perfect, and I have yet to receive a contract back without so much as a redline….
Admittedly, I take on some large issues in this column. But this is neither a treatise on contract law, nor the forum to attempt one. I am simply attempting to give some pointers for negotiating commercial contracts. I do very much appreciate the emails that I receive that suggest where I missed some salient information, or that offer critiques to some of my strategies. I’ve even used some of them and credited the authors, to the extent they’d allow. Funny thing about this site, most people don’t want to be identified. It’s almost end of year, so here goes:
Let’s say you’re in the heat of a commercial lease negotiation and the customer says to you: “What are these payments in the event of default? Why should I be penalized if your product doesn’t work as it should? Are you telling me that I have no remedies? Don’t you stand behind your products?”
You always hear urban legends (and some of them turn out to be real cases) about burglars who sue — and win against — homeowners for injuries sustained during the robbery. These are the kinds of cases that make you wonder how the justice system even functions, because you can literally sue for just about anything these days.
Oh, you fell through a skylight while you were attempting to burglarize a home and cut your arm? File a lawsuit! You tried to steal a television set from your neighbor and got bitten by his dog in the process? Time to litigate! So, what happens when you’re on the run and you decide to break into a couple’s home and hold them hostage?
Our latest pro se criminal litigant decided to up the ante. He’s suing his former kidnapping victims for breach of contract….
Caveat: I did not write the following dialogue. It is from the “comments” section of one of my columns where I mentioned I’d be writing about HIPAA and GLBA. Unfortunately, I cannot attribute the comments to the persons who wrote them, as they are anonymous; however they are quite apropos of today’s subject:
1) “I wish vendors would get it into their heads that indemnity for being sued on a confidentiality basis doesn’t cut it for financial institutions and other customers/clients that have affirmative obligations without being sued in the event of a breach of confidentiality.”
2) “I wish financial institution customers would get it into their heads that the ‘customer information’ they’re obligated to protect is not the sort of thing they would ever disclose to the vast majority of their vendors, and stop using their ‘affirmative obligations’ as a tool to cram unnecessarily restrictive confidentiality terms down the throats of vendors.”
Perfect. Those two comments capture the schism between vendors and customers when dealing with private financial or personal confidential information….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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