Thursday, October 28, 2010

299 / Contracts And Culture

Attorneys have an obligation to engage in "continuing education," and I am soon going to have to prove that I have complied with State Bar requirements. Specifically, I need to demonstrate that I have taken MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education) courses representing 25 hours of study over the past two years, and that four hours have been relevant to "legal ethics," one hour relevant to "substance abuse," and one hour relevant to "elimination of bias."

I have been going to seminars, and listening to CD's in my car, and just heard a presentation on "elimination of bias" that addressed bias and the legal profession in the context of international contract negotiations.

As it turns out, American lawyers (culturally speaking) like to get everything down in detailed legalese. Other cultures, Asian cultures specifically, according to the course materials I reviewed, are much less concerned about contract details and much more concerned about establishing a good "relationship."

"High fives" don't really count in either culture, but it did ring true to me that I like to have everything spelled out to the letter. "Relationships" are fine, of course, but my question is "what can I get a court to enforce?" That better be in the contract, the way I see it. Now, I find that this approach is culturally conditioned.

As I think about my "two worlds" model, I find that both approaches resonate. The realities we create are essentially based (as in the "Western" model) on written down "prescriptions" of what we want to do. Better get it written down right, so you don't leave out an important ingredient. On the other hand, the reality of the world in which we most immediately live is, actually, largely based on our expectations; people mainly do what they are "expected to do," and we actually "see" mostly what we "expect" to see. That argues for the "Eastern" model of establishing good relationships as a primary goal of negotiations, so we expect to work things out when unexpected conditions arise.

In the end, I'm with the bank manager in the cartoon above, which I now know reflects my cultural conditioning. Let's do the "high five," and establish a good relationship first, and then go back to the office and write it all down.

As in so many things, Both/And turns out to be better than Either/Or.

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