“Only raise issues that have dollars attached to them” (and four thoughts about that view)

The quote comes from a list of lessons learned by a general counsel who served for a time as the President of a major operating unit. The admonition has much merit. Consider these four corollaries.

What interests a specialist lawyer professionally about a situation may be the farthest thing from the client’s mind. Yes, a fascinating nuance of the statute or a ground-breaking interpretation may thrill a professorial sort, but to a client, show me the money or be quiet.

The exhortation also reminds us how much clients crave percentages. “If we do this, there is a thirty percent chance the joint venture will fall apart” has force not only because it gives a better sense of likelihood but also because it lets the businessperson roughly translate the joint venture’s fate into dollars lost.

Third, if you as an in-house lawyer attach a monetary value to a risk or an issue, you explicitly recognize priorities. Or at least you have one basis for ranking which issues to research, stand firm on, or negotiate.

A final thought underlines your increased value when you speak in clients’ terms. They care about revenue and profit and loss, not about legal arcanae. Talk dollars and sense and you will be a more valued partner.

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