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Jan 30, 2014

After almost three years on the IT/commercial contracts team here at Waterfront, I am leaving the firm to return to my native Australia.

During my time here, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic clients on a variety of interesting projects. Some have been exciting, some challenging. Others have likely contributed to a rapidly-receding hairline. But all of them have been in some way rewarding.

With one foot out the door I’ve set out a few thoughts, tips and musings from my time in the Waterfront offices.

1. We’re going global: the most substantial trend is the increasing global aspect to many transactions we are asked to advise on. Even our smallest clients are extending across borders and oceans, breaking into new territories and collaborating with overseas organisations. Navigating through issues relating to service delivery, jurisdiction and governing law has become more and more prevalent for each contract.

2. Don’t sit on the fence: the Waterfront approach is focused on providing clear and highly commercial advice. This means not sitting on the fence or having a ‘bet each way’ – sometimes a challenge when there’s multiple options on the table! I’ve most enjoyed working with clients with a healthy curiosity or even scepticism. They ask not ‘Should I sign’, but ‘Why shouldn’t I sign?’ Ultimately, most decisions relating to the drafting/negotiation of contracts are about weighing commercial risk with reward – and our role is to empower and assist clients to make informed decisions.

3. The Negotiatory Paradox: it’s a strange phenomenon. When we act for the supplier, we’re told (often by our client) that the customer is always right. But when we act for the customer, it seems that it’s the supplier who is always right! I refer to this as the ‘Negotiatory Paradox’.

4. Taking ownership = quick resolution: lawyers are often required to play ‘the bad guy’ in a contract negotiation. This is part of the service and we’re happy to do it to protect a client’s friendly relationship with the other side (often a potential customer or collaborator). For example, it might involve taking a firm stance on a technical legal point such as liability limitation wording. Still, clients should be careful not to distance themselves too far from these positions. It’s my experience that clients who take clear ‘ownership’ of such issues are often rewarded with a quicker resolution.

5. Bacon and eggs: finally, the best line I heard from a client during my time at Waterfront was assisting a client in a protracted negotiation with their customer. Said the customer: “We’ve already compromised on this issue”. Said our client: “If we were making bacon and eggs: you’ve compromised in the manner of the chicken, but we are compromising in the manner of the pig!”

In closing it’s worth noting a few personal lessons I’ve picked up along the way. You don’t win friends in an open plan office after a lively conference call with a panel of German lawyers calling from a submarine (or so it seemed). Never plan to leave a Waterfront summer party early, or sober. Always plan for a rainy day in London, no matter how sunny the morning might be. And finally: never take for granted the privilege of working with a great and dedicated bunch of people like the Waterfront team.

Wishing Waterfront and all its clients every success in 2014 and beyond.