A recent client conversation brought to mind a valuable lesson I learned about the significance of involving legal expertise in a timely manner relating to the process of forming alliances.

Back in the summer of 2003, I found myself amidst a negotiation for an alliance contract between two multinational corporations. The objective of this negotiation was to establish a partnership for a combined product offering and to facilitate seamless cooperation between our sales teams, aiming for a triple win scenario.  While the operational aspect was already underway, formalising the contract had become essential.

However, we overlooked one aspect on both sides of the negotiation table. Our respective legal departments had yet to join the negotiation discussions! Recognising the need to involve them, we held an initial conference call with our legal teams to quickly finalise the contract.

In hindsight, this decision didn’t yield the optimal outcome. Each legal department had its unique approach and way of working. The first conference call marked the beginning of several more conference calls, with changes in legal representation on one side and reluctance of participation from some lawyers on the other. The sequence of events, coupled with inadequate communication, led to a situation where parties became entrenched in their positions rather than seeking collaborative resolutions.

By early summer 2004, an agreement was finally reached, and exactly one year after that initial conference call, the contract was signed. Ironically, the contract remained unused as people in the field had already found other ways to continue their operations.

This experience taught me invaluable lessons about stakeholder involvement, effective communication and assembling the right individuals at the negotiation table. The success of optimal stakeholder engagement requires a constant assessment of who to involve and when. As for the legal aspect, this experience reiterated the importance of engaging legal expertise as early on in the process as engaging advisors.

Often, our most profound lessons stem from impactful experiences. While these lessons may not be pleasant at the time of occurrence, they transform into valuable learning opportunities in hindsight.

May my lesson of the repercussions of delayed legal involvement serve as a valuable asset to you in your alliance endeavours!

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