University of Wisconsin Law School, Frank J. Remington Center
July 24, 2010
Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 60, No. 1, p. 107, 2010
Lawyers frequently start negotiations with a written demand. But legal scholars have not, until now, considered the demand letter part of the negotiation process. Negotiation theory focuses almost exclusively on face-to-face negotiations and incorporates research from psychology, economics, and other social sciences to explain lawyers’ and clients’ emotions and decisions. By contrast, legal writing texts give lawyers guidance about how to effectively write a demand letter, but this advice lacks any connection to the multi-disciplinary empirical research seen as so important in the negotiation context. This disconnect may serve as an impediment to more favorable negotiations. In fact, this untested advice about how to write demand letters could actually have the unwanted effect of causing protracted litigation and less favorable settlements.
This article draws upon research in social psychology to demonstrate that demand letters deserve more attention and study. The words lawyers use to convey their demands can have powerful, lasting effects on the course and nature of negotiations because they almost certainly frame the issues, anchor a recipient’s perceptions, and prime the recipient’s goals and behaviors. If we are to fully understand what causes protracted, hostile litigation as opposed to cooperative negotiations and lasting resolutions, we must start by applying sound negotiation theory to the written demand.