I’d like to review the basic simple ideas of negotiation, which most of you already are totally aware about, but perhaps younger lawyers might benefit from.

Pawn Stars is a popular TV show which features people bringing various items into the pawn shop and selling them to the pawn shop owners. Rick Harrison, one of the owners, is frequently shown on the program negotiating with the seller over the price he will pay for the item. If you want to see an example after example of how not to negotiate watch the sellers attempt to get the best price they can for their item. Virtually every one of them violate the fundamental rules of negotiation.

For a review of what we all know are the basics of negotiation let me start with a recent show I watched. A woman had a set of large antique wooden doors she wanted to sell to the pawn shop. Before she negotiated, she disclosed on camera, she intended to ask for $5000, but would take a minimum of $1000. She did the first step correctly. She had checked background information and comparing her purchase price to her evaluation of the fair market value of the doors established a minimum.

In simple injury cases, following a traditional approach,  the first thing we need to do with our cases for settlement negotiation is to review the likely jury verdict in the venue where we will have to try  the case. That involves (1) the total insurance coverage available to us (2) the likely chance of winning given liability factors and (3) the probable value range of the injuries and damages. The balance between liability evaluation and damages represents a range of percentage of winning and value of injuries. The total is a range of likely verdict which is then reduced in amount for settlement benefit.

Next, we need to determine our demand amount. With the exception of “must settle” cases we always make that amount substantially more than our verdict evaluation for a lot of reasons, the chief one being you might just get it and it allows room for negotiation.

In this example, she had established her minimum and had set her maximum at a range that was substantially more than her minimum. So far, so good, assuming she was right about the maximum value of the doors being $5000 and wasn’t leaving money on the table.

When she told him she wanted to sell the doors, the first thing Mr. Harrison did was to ask what she was asking for the doors. She told him she wanted $5000. Note that there is an advantage in having the other person go first in saying how much they are after. It makes  them set the maximum range which might be lower than you are willing to pay and forces the other person to fix the negotiation range.

When he heard her amount, Mr. Harrison exhibited shock and disbelief, shaking his head . The first rule of negotiation is that no matter what the other person offers, even if more than you are willing to settle for, you always are in disbelief at the unfairness of the offer. There is ample psychology to justify doing this and he did it well.

He followed that with his pointing out to her various defects or problems that he found in the doors. You know the drill – you are at the car lot and after hearing the salesperson’s purchase price for the car, you began pointing out problems with it everywhere and reasons why the price just isn’t going to work. Offering reasons why the number is unfair gives  the other person an excuse to adopt a new figure.

Mr. Harrison then counter offered $500. Look at the spread he created between the high of $5000 and his $500. There is a $4500 difference which allows plenty of negotiation room. More importantly, sets the boundaries so far apart that it signals a low evaluation by the seller and creates a low mid point as well.

The seller then complained  the figure was too low and gave reasons why  the doors were more valuable. She then offers to sell them for $1000, her minimum number! She dropped from her opening demand directly to her minimum  figure of $1000. We all know that this was an entirely wrong tactic unless she has decided this is a take or leave it offer and plans to walk if he declines. It’s wrong for many reasons.

  1. She gave the buyer and immediate $4500 discount without getting anything in return.
  2. She failed to see that the only response to that would be a counter offer for less which would be below her minimum
  3. She has reset the negotiation range between his $500 and her $1000 leaving no possibility of getting a mid point number

What should she have done? She should have applied the first rule of negotiation: shock and disbelief at such a low figure for such valuable doors.  Her counter proposal after his first response should have been close to her opening demand to test how firm Mr. Harrison was about his number.  With her staying high, the back and forth exchanges would have revealed whether there was a reasonable chance of settlement and given her a much better chance of a larger payment for the doors. She torpedoed her chances by her response.

Of course, her counter offer resulted in a counter proposal from Mr. Harrison for less than her minimum figure: $800. Note that his figure is perfect from his standpoint. First, even if he thought the doors were worth a whole lot more than $1000, he wants to get the best possible figure so instead of agreeing to a bargain he offers less than she proposes. Plus, he stays close to his original figure to test her resolve. For him, it is a win – win situation.

You can guess the outcome which resulted in a sale. Afterwards, the seller says outside the pawn shop that even though she didn’t get what she wanted she is happy because she paid less for the doors. Note our human psychology. We always rationalize our outcomes to our favor. We pay more than we should have for the car, but find reasons why it was still a good deal. Which brings up my last point. It is important you always leave the other side with the idea that they got a good deal in the negotiation. You may see them again and you sure don’t want to gloat about taking advantage over them because they will not forget it.

I’ve mentioned Roger Dawson’s great publications on negotiation which I recommend to trial lawyers. You might also want to see Harvard University publications on the subject:


Nationallly known plaintiff’s trial lawyer Rick Friedman recently called attention to the article from the University of Denver Sturm College law by John Campbell and others entitled: “Countering the plaintiffs anchor: Jury simulations to evaluate damages arguments.” The article deals with an important research project about  the principle of anchoring which has direct application to the plaintiff’s damage arguments. I think plaintiff lawyers should read this article.

Neuro linguistic programming deals extensively with the concept of anchoring and is a good resource for learning techniques of anchoring. What is anchoring? Anchors are stimuli that produce  a state of mind – thoughts and emotions. For example, the smell of bread may take you back to a memory about your childhood. A tune you hear on the radio may remind you of an event or a person. These are anchors that operate automatically and often without your being aware of the triggers. Neuro linguistic programming deals extensively with the concept of anchoring and is a good resource for learning techniques of anchoring.

Anchors can be visual, auditory and kenesthetic. How do you create a personal anchor? The simple formula is:  (A) decide on the state you want to anchor. What feeling or action are you trying to anchor? (B) choose an anchor, or anchors, that you will use to trigger the state. For example, make a fist, or a finger and thumb pressed together or pull on your ear lobe. This will be the trigger or stimulus that will create the state you wish. (C) recall a memory or vividly imagine a situation where you experienced the state you want to anchor. Make the image sharp and bright. Makes sounds clear. Use a word that enhances the feeling for example, “yes!.” And (D) activate the anchor by the trigger you selected. Repeat the process to make it permanent.

Anchors are commonly used in marketing. One of the common applications deals with presenting prices. A high number is used to anchor an impression about a lower price for an article. The real estate agent shows the most expensive house first before showing the less expensive ones. The larger number operates as an anchor affecting the impression of the price of other houses. In 1974 psychologist did a study about the anchoring effect. Participants watched a roulette wheel that, unknowing to them, was rigged to stop at either 10 or 65.  Participants were asked to estimate the number of countries in Africa belonging to the United Nations. For the half of the participants where the roulette wheel stopped on 10, they gave the median estimate of 25 countries. For the other half, where the wheel stopped on 65, their median estimate was 45 countries. The random anchors dramatically affected the judgment of the participants as to their estimates even though the number on the roulette wheel  had nothing at all to do with countries in Africa belonging to the U.N. The number became an anchor that  primed the judgment for the estimate.

In the article from the Sturm College of Law, the researchers studied this concept of anchoring. The issue they studied was the effect of the amount of money the plaintiff asked for on the ultimate verdict. In addition they studied the impact of a defendant who either ignored the number plaintiff suggested or suggested an alternative number.

This important article answers the question of  whether  a plaintiff is better off  not  suggesting any number or should avoid asking for “too much” because it will anger the jury.  In summary, the study found that anchoring effects  were extremely powerful. The plaintiff was able to dramatically increase the potential recovery by simply demanding more money. In the study, damages increased an average of 430% by this tactic and also found it had a small affect on winning. Their conclusion was that the plaintiff should always  asking for a damage figure and should request extremely high damages  unless the concern is maximizing the chance of recovery.

As to the defendant, it is a mistake for the defense attorney to not provide the juries with an alternative to the plaintiff’s damage award generally. When the defendants suggested a lower number in this study the defendant won more cases (defendant prevail 81.7%) and when no alternative number was suggested it decreased by 19.4%. However suggesting an alternative lower figure by the defendant did not prove to have any statistical significant effect on damages. The study concluded that the defendants “lack an effective way to rebut the plaintiff’s outrageously high anchor.”

The article conclusion is significant for plaintiffs attorneys. Anchoring works. Although the plaintiff who shoots for the stars takes a credibility risk that reduces the chances of winning, it is outweighed by the higher damages award if plaintiff win according to this study.  Also, the three strategies available to defendants all failed to overcome the anchoring effect.

This study confirms the most common viewpoint that it is always a mistake for the plaintiff not to suggest a number to the jury and letting the jury  “figure it out for themselves.” More importantly, it reflects on the conventional fear that asking for too much money will cause the jurors to become angry and do the opposite. While there certainly is logic to that view, particularly in thin liability cases  or cases where the injuries are questionable or exaggerated, overal should ask for a large verdict.

Thanks  to Rick for calling  attention to this study as  I believe this is an important article which should be applied with a large measure of common sense when applied to a specific case. However, it confirms what other studies have shown which is that there is a “priming” principle or anchor which is brought into play by asking for a substantial amount from the jury. Let us reevaluate the amount we asked the jury for to ensure that it is consistent with the real injuries and the case with this principle in mind.





This is a mixing bowl of unconnected ideas about our work. It’s a summary of some recent E-mail exchanges I’ve had with  other plaintiff’s lawyers about different subjects  under discussion and my general reading.

How do We  Make  Decisions?

I’ve written a lot about this subject but in Tuesday’s edition of the this  week’s New York Times there was an article about how people  make medical decisions regarding their health care. It was based, in part on medical journal articles and interviews  with physicians. As I read it, there  was an obvious connection to jury decision making. The article observed that in an ideal world, people would base medical decisions on an unbiased evaluation of available evidence. But people are often irrational and many, perhaps most, are driven more by emotion than facts.

This is a very signifcant observation for trial lawyers  who have been taught to think people make  decisions in a logical and rational manner. The entire jury system is based upon  that idea, but there is  no question this is not how decisions are made. If  science has so very clearly established that decisions are made largely at a subconscious level and always involve a large component of emotion, why would trial lawyers insist on trying cases as if that weren’t the scientific fact? Why wouldn’t they adjust their presentation of the case to be consistent with how decsions are really made?

Dr Lisa Rosenbaum in the New England Journal of Medicine was quoted as saying  “we don’t process negative events, only positive ones. People interpret information according to their preconceived notions. Their sense of risk is often determined less by facts than by their feelings and emotions.”

Note the first  sentance in the paragraph above  about how our subconscious processes negative statements. Research has demonstrated that  our  subconscious  does  not register negative statements, only positive ones. Therefore, a political ad  which says “Don’t vote for John Smith” registers  in  our subconscious as “VOTE for John  Smith.”  I’ve written about the NLP idea of embedded commands that employ this fact:

Dr Lisa Rosenbaum MD  is quoted as saying: “People interpret information according to their preconceived notions. Their sense of risk is often determined less by facts than by their feelings and emotions.”  This is consistent with the most fundamental of all principles  about  the reality of  a trial as  expressed previously: A trial is a battle of impression and not logic.

I’ve written also about  the research that shows people make their  decisions at a subconscious level based  primarily on their value system and past significant experiences. The article deals with this when they quote Dan Kahan who heads Cultural Cognition Project at Yale University and who says people pick and choose evidence that reinforces their sense of who they are and they groups they belong to.

Once the subsconscious mind makes a decision  it begins to filter all of the information which  follows. It either rationalizies the evidence to fit the viewpoint adopted or simply  ignores it and  this is all  done without a consious awarness it is  going on.  That’s why jurors always have a rational opinion for their  decision, but have no way to accesss  what really happenss  in the subconscious. Talking to jurors  about why they decided can provide helpful information, but they can’t tell you what the real process  was because they don’t know.

How Much Should I Ask the Jury For?

That was the subject of a recent Email exchange and one that comes up in discussion with lawyers. While the lawyer was  in trial this was  the question that was asked.  My response was this:

The fact is  your case value depends primarily upon your mental attitude and the conviction you deeply feel about the fairness of the amount  you intend to argue. That attitude is created by your evaluation of the case as it has been presented to the jury and by your impression of  the jurors in the box. For example, Gerry Spence has argued $30 million dollars for the death of child, but other lawyers likely would have used a lower number because of their very different  internal confidence  level and personal evaluations.

I don’t think anyone other than you, as plaintiff’s attorney, can select the right number for you to argue with sincerity and with genuine passion. If  you don’t believe fully and completely in what you  are suggesting as a verdict in the case your chances of getting  it are reduced dramatically. That, in turn,  requires  you to have a deep emotional knowledge of exactly what the  injuries  have meant  to your  client. You need to climb  inside their skin and  really experience what this  has meant to  them before you can  translate it into a fair  appraisal as a verdict.

I think the argument should be framed not as you would approach economic damage calculations, but rather as setting a value on impairment of human life. That is, not by math but rather as  you would the value of a great painting.This Paul Cezanne painting  “The card players” sold for  $273 million dollars in 2011.

It’s not the value of the paint and canvas, which is easily  replaced, that accounts for the value, but rather that it is something totally unique and irreplaceable.

There is only one human like this client that ever existed in the entire of the world, just as there is one of you that is totally unique. There will never be another human like this one. We look at the value of the loss of something  uniquely precious to make  our evaluation. It can’t be done by taking the minimum wage and multiplying  it over  life expectancy. Like the painting there is a loss  of a valuable possession of good health that is unique to the child and the family.

The first Rule of Being a Great Plaintiff’s Attorney

I’ve written a lot about being an authentic person. I believe the first and most fundamental rule of advocacy greatness is to be real. If  you want  to be a great trial lawyer you first must learn to be a real person. My most recent post about this is: What does being real mean? Well, it starts with stop hiding behind masks we have created to conceal who we think you really are. We see ourselves as a fraud, a small child hiding deep within who we pretend to be and that guarding totally cuts us off from genuine relationships. It is in our connecting  with the jury that we gain trust and credibility. We can’t have a genuine connection unless we are ourselves genuine people.

In a recent post (  by my friend Don Keenan he makes this point and quotes lyrics from a Tim McGraw song “Overrated.” I think it is on target for illustrating this point:

We amputate the heart
Cause we can’t let ‘em see the broken part
Water down the wine and jump the shark
We build our castles tall
Just so we can have the higher walls
It don’t matter where you came from
Or where it is you get your name from
We’re going down if we don’t change some.
Let’s get real and be genuine people without false fronts and pretending to be someone else instead of ourselves, warts, scars and all.