Inspired by his love of cheesy rom-coms (including the eponymous film starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles), and ignoring the old adage about biting the hand that feeds you, John Yates of V-LEX takes a light-hearted look at things which infuriate him about his job.
1. “We want pragmatic commercially minded legal advice”
Me: “if you go ahead with this deal, two things will happen: one, the budget will spiral out of control by £20 – 30 million; two, the solution won’t work because the middleware won’t handle the volume of transactions you’re talking about. In-house lawyer: “But what about the IPR clauses?”
2. “I’d like your opinion”
Don’t ask for my opinion and then get angry and upset when you don’t like it. The FD of an NHS Trust once asked me (a long time ago) who was to blame for their fiasco with implementing a new PAS system. I replied that he was personally accountable – as the sponsor, he’d attended one programme board in 12 months and approved a decision to go live without testing. This wasn’t well received.
3. Don’t lie to me
Looking across the table, I asked the director whether his company owned the intellectual property in the software which was being licensed to my client. He replied in the affirmative, but something in his body language made me scribble all over my pad and reach for the highlighter. A few months later, his company fell out with the real owner and our project ended in court.
4. “Just dot the i’s and cross the t’s”
Maybe I’m being thin-skinned, but this suggests that we’re glorified proofreaders (unfortunately, this is what many lawyers have become).
5. “We can’t do that because of public procurement law”
Often said by people who turn a blind eye to the law when it suits them (for example, by manipulating the requirements and the evaluation model to pick their favoured winner).
6. “Your lawyer is getting in the way of doing business”
Usually said by suppliers seeking to gain commercial advantage by removing a key player from the pitch. Perhaps he or she is embarrassing them, and making them look greedy and incompetent. A quiet word in the ear of the customer’s chief executive and, hey presto, they’re removed from the game as a result of a mysterious personality clash.
7. “Wouldn’t it be better if it was deliberately vague”
This comment comes up surprisingly frequently. It was first said to me many years ago, when I reviewed a contract to develop new software and commented on the lack of any description of the project, solution or plan. It was followed up with the immortal line: “this is a happy project” (sub text – until you came along).
Rarely do contracts benefit from being deliberately vague. They may lack clarity for many reasons, such as time pressure or lack of focus. However, it seems short-sighted to design future disputes into the contract.
8. Artificial deadlines
“This deal needs to be done by next Friday.” I don’t mind working to deadlines as it helps to focus the mind, but I like them to be real rather than linked to your holiday plans or a promise you’ve made to your boss. And don’t make matters worse by sitting on a job until the last possible minute and chucking it over the fence when it becomes screamingly urgent.
9. Not reading documents until the 11th hour
We’re on version 24 of the pricing schedule. You ask the client whether they’ve read it and are happy with the content. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Just before signing, they send you a previous version marked up with their comments.
10. “It’s very technical”
Me: “I don’t understand this project plan. You appear to be starting the design before you’ve finished requirements gathering.” Supplier: “It’s very technical” (this can convey one of two meanings: (1) you wouldn’t understand if I explained it to you; or (2) I don’t know what I’m talking about).
Ultimately, people need to understand what they’re signing up to, and should be able to explain it to those without a degree in information sciences.
So, with a heartfelt plea to the players on both sides of the table, a cheesy end note – you are not Sleeping with the Enemy and we should all be trying to avoid getting Lost in Translation.
Why? Because, when it comes to doing deals, it should be Love, Actually!