Lawyers and business professionals often do not speak the same language, particularly when intellectual property law is involved. Too often, when there is an IP issue, the focus is on immediate pressures rather than long-term needs. But failing to talk broadly about the ownership and protection of information is not optional in today’s legal and business environment. To effectively protect enterprise value, we in business and in law must learn to speak a little more of each other’s lingo.
Here are some tips for leading productive boardroom discussions.
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The Basics Bear Repeating
The best way to connect with a business is to immerse yourself in a working group. Visit and, if you can, do some work on the premises. Share meals and socialize with your clients. Get into the lab and onto the shipping floor. Find the coders and ask what they are working on. Offhand remarks can reveal a great deal about day-to-day concerns, which are really the tip of the strategic iceberg. Do your homework. Read up on your client’s business, its industry and the legal developments that affect them now or may in the future. It has been reported that the average successful job interview requires nine to 12 hours of research and preparation. The same is probably true for your client visits and status calls.
Be Concrete and Numerical
Business executives will often be dismissive of strategic concerns that are phrased in abstract terms, but they will not ignore issues with major long-term impacts that can be addressed today.
Be prepared to talk in terms of numbers and probable outcomes. Always give both. Because of the difficulty of managing expectations about legal costs, lawyers are often reluctant to put a number on anything. But remember that most executives are quick with math and appreciate data, and they respect professionals who can provide both.
Market Structure with the Porter Forces
Before you can think outside the box, you have to understand all six sides of the box. In “Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors,” author Michael Porter established the classic model of five market forces:
• The intensity of rivalry;
• Buyers’ power;
• Suppliers’ power;
• The availability of alternatives;
• New entrants.
In their book, “Coopetition,” Barry Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger add a sixth force:
• The power of complements.
Rivals are direct competitors. Think of suppliers as everyone “upstream;” the companies that make parts and software components; the people who train or find employees, contractors and temps. Even the employees themselves. Buyers include anyone “downstream” from a company’s core activities, such as distribution channels and sales force. Buyers and suppliers can exert greater pressure on your client than the fiercest competitor.