As I boarded the plane to Chicago this morning, the partner I’m traveling with leaned over and said, “If anyone asks, we vote in favor of working non-stop until this agreement is done. Even if it means working all night long. Got it?” Got it.
Only no one ever asked.
At 5:00pm, the negotiations broke up. The other side went off to redraft the contract. We headed into a separate conference room to wait for the new draft and work on our own stuff. About thirty minutes later, I went to the lobby to make a phone call (and look at the view from the 40th floor windows), and I saw that the place was all shut down — as in, it was deserted and a giant metal gate had been lowered to block the elevator bay. You’d have thought it was the post office at lunch time, not an international law firm.
Then the lawyer from the other side came back with one of the documents we’d been waiting for. As we hunkered down, ready to crank out our response in time for another round of negotiations, he stood there with an awkward “Ahem” look on his face. “Did you guys need any recommendations for a restaurant tonight? I’d be happy to help with reservations and then walk you out of the building. There’s this gate thing…”
Riiiight. Because for some reason he thought the business day ended at 6:00pm. Weird.
The upshot is that now I’m sitting in a room at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Chicago, having just returned from a delicious dinner at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse (where, Dad, you’ll be happy to know that I actually ordered steak — I had a filet mignon and brussels sprouts, with celery/lobster soup as an appetizer and a key lime “bombe” for dessert; all delicious). It’s a quarter to ten, and I’m essentially done with work for the day — negotiations don’t resume until tomorrow at 9am!
Part of me is tempted to call up some of my Chicago friends and go out. The other part of me is eyeing that down comforter and thinking I should nestle down with my new biography of the Cardinal de Richelieu and read about 17th century French politics for a while.
Fortunately (albeit to the detriment of my hipness) my Chicago friends are all responsible adults with jobs, so Richelieu wins. But a few quick thoughts before heading to bed:
First, Chicago is SUCH a cool city. Every time I come here I’m impressed by how much I like it. I love the skyscrapers, the way the river fits into the city, the gritty industrial feel of the town (like it’s got guts), and that quintessential midwestern-American friendliness. Like New York, Chicago makes me ask the question: Why don’t I live here?
Second, I really like partners who let me into their heads on the deals we’re working on. Today, for example, was weird on a lot of levels (not just because we got out at 6pm). We went into the negotiations with basically no idea what we were supposed to be doing. The circumstances and terms of the deal were unusual, the other side didn’t want to do the deal but was being forced to do it by their superiors, our client was being forced to do the deal by the US government and so had zero leverage. What’s more, we’d never met our client before in person, did not know how he wanted to handle the negotiation — and his flight was delayed so we wouldn’t have a chance to caucus in private before going into the negotiation room. What I appreciated was the partner’s willingness to say, “I don’t know how this is going to play out. Keep your eyes and ears open and just go with the flow — this will be an exercise in reading other people.” Which is exactly what it was. I watched and listened and it was fascinating how things unfolded — and as they unfolded, the partner would lean over and explain to me his theories on what was happening, or what he thought would happen next, or why he thought what was happening was good or bad. Most of the partners I’ve worked with so far haven’t done anything quite like that, and I felt like I learned a lot just in this one afternoon. It was great.