A Case for Reading All Firm-Wide Emails

I was on vacation when I got an interesting email. With all due respect to the folks at DLA that keep everyone in the firm apprised of all the happenings within the firm, when this email hit my inbox it looked like the type of firm-wide email I typically skim and move onto the next.  During my quick skim, the obvious things stood out to me: “Pro Bono Training”, “Nairobi, Kenya”, “East African Government Attorneys”, “East African Development Bank”, “Uganda”, “Tanzania” and “Rwanda”. I thought this sounded like a fantastic opportunity, but after a few minutes, brushed it aside to continue my trip. 

This firm-wide email actually stuck with me until I returned home. I discussed the opportunity with several members of the Austin corporate group once I got back to the office and, with their full support, applied to be a member of the New Perimeter team. The application process was quick.  After a handful of phone calls, I got the exciting news that I was selected to join the team for the training in Nairobi.  Then it was off to the races.  

Getting ready for the trip was a bit of a whirlwind:  booking flights, applying for a visa, preparing presentations, researching various topics, visiting travel clinics, joining team calls, wrapping up and handing off deal matters back home and so on.  It was a little tiring, but it was all absolutely worth the effort. 

Once the New Perimeter team was (mostly) boots on the ground in Nairobi the Sunday of that week, it was immediately apparent how well the attorneys from DLA’s offices in Brussels, Paris, New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Austin and Los Angeles came together and shared in the excitement of kicking off the training the following morning.  The team was further solidified when our colleagues from Hamburg and Brisbane joined the following day after overcoming travel challenges outside their control, and fully rounded out later in the week with support from partners and attorneys from IKM Advocates, a DLA Piper Africa member firm. 

On Monday morning the negotiation training finally kicked off with an opening ceremony and an introduction to the various topics that would be covered throughout the week including negotiation process, cross cultural issues, local content, and oil and gas and stabilization clauses, among many others.  I could tell that several of the trainees (and trainers, myself included) were a bit taken aback by the volume of material that was to be covered, but off we went, with the help of a constant supply of Kenyan coffee and tea. 

The trainees and trainers quickly settled into a rhythm and each day worked through the materials to get to the highlight of the program, a simulated negotiation designed to have the trainees put the various skills covered throughout the week to use.  For the negotiation, the participants were divided into teams (and assigned a New Perimeter team member as an advisor) to negotiate with each other from different positions based on the facts each side of the negotiation table was given which are specifically designed to present obstacles to reaching a deal.  The simulated negotiation was how the final hours were spent each day as the teams strategized internally and came together to inch their way through complex issues toward a deal.  And when I say “inch”, I mean it.  Half way through the week, I thought there was a less than ten percent chance the teams I was observing were going to reach a deal, but they did a great job of proving me wrong. 

The simulated negotiation was the most gratifying part of the training program; it showed that the participants were grasping the materials from the presentations and able to quickly deploy the skills learned in a negotiation setting.  It was so impressive to see the trainees identify issues and in real time address those issues using the strategies included the presentations from the days before.  The negotiation also gave the trainees an opportunity to burn off the energy they had reserved throughout the morning and early afternoon presentations with some (mostly) civil argument. 

The final day of the training was the last chance the teams had to reach a deal.  After five days of internal strategizing, face-to-face negotiations, and several evenings of exchanging offers via email, most of the teams came to a deal!  It was thrilling to see how happy and proud the trainees were to grind out a successful negotiation.  After the negotiations were wrapped up, the trainees and trainers celebrated the conclusion of the week with a barbecue on the lawn, though some of the negotiations continued at the lunch tables.  Then it was time for bitter sweet goodbyes, exchanges of business cards, WhatsApp accounts and email addresses before the trainees and trainers parted ways to disperse across East Africa and the rest of the world. 

I will never forget my time in Nairobi on the New Perimeter team and I know it will remain one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career.  I’m very grateful to DLA and the New Perimeter team for organizing such a wonderful program.  The negotiation training provided a great opportunity to gain valuable experience and form relationships with attorneys across East Africa and DLA colleagues from around the globe.