Don’t Skip the Fine Print

Lawyers tell us the rookie mistakes even seasoned negotiators make.

 A popular analogy for contract negotiating is a chess game: the participants plan several moves ahead, their intentions are known, but their approach is subtle, and the two parties engage in a delicate dance, moving some pieces into play and sacrificing others. 

After talking to six attorneys who work with meeting planners and vendors, it would appear that the old chess proverb, “a player surprised is half beaten,” is just as true in the events industry as on the game board. In fact, if you read the stories below, you might think that negotiating a contract is less like a game of chess and more like a game of Chutes and Ladders, where one party has successfully climbed all the ladders to get close to a contract both sides can live with, only to slide down the final chute because they made a basic mistake and they land back at square one.

Don’t think you would ever fall prey to basic contract negotiation mistakes? Good for you! But according to these six lawyers, quite a few of us need a primer in contracts 101. 

To avoid making these rookie mistakes, take a look at Barbara Dunn O’Neal’s tips before you start, and then read Jonathan Howe’s advice to help you clarify exactly what it is you want from the negotiation, and what you are willing to give up. Tyra Hilliard offers practical advice on retaining your leverage in the negotiation; Joshua Grimes has some words of warning on making assumptions, and John Foster shares cautionary tales for people who don’t follow his Golden Rule of Contracting. Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist and legendary author of The Art of War, wrote that “all warfare is based on deception,” and if you think his strategies don’t apply to venue contracts, check out what Lisa Sommer Devlin has to say about sneaky practices.

Your contract should be a meeting of minds, not a battleground. As Sun Tzu famously said (or would have, if he was in the meetings industry), “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting, so read the damn contract, people!”

Contracts 101: Know Before You Negotiate
It’s not poker people! Attorney Barbara Dunn O’Neal recommends putting your cards on the table.

Contracts 101: The Contract Negotiation Hall of Shame
Legal expert Joshua Grimes says thinking like a lawyer can help you prepare for the unexpected.

Contracts 101: A Question of Leverage
Industry expert Tyra Hilliard says, “Whoever has the money in their pocket is the winner.”

Contracts 101: The Golden Rule of Contracts
Attorney John Foster says it is better to negotiate than to beg.

Contracts 101: Ignorance Is No Excuse
Lawyer Lisa Sommer Devlin warns a judge won’t protect you from a stupid mistake.

Contracts 101: Shape the Contract to Your Needs
Decide on your needs, wants, and interests and make sure you are talking to the right person, says Jonathan Howe of Howe and Hutton.


Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.