Negotiating by Way of The Cloud


Technology changes how accountability is enforced by legal procedures.  The New York Times reports how divorced parents now negotiate joint child custody responsibilities, under court supervision.

In the old days divorced parents had to negotiate by direct telephone or in-person meetings.  That was so 20th Century, and emotionally confrontational.  But today they communicate by way of remote, asynchronous technologies such as email and online calendars.  It can allow them to communicate more calmly.

These electronic tools create detailed, time-stamped records, which are subject to court review if there is a dispute.  Gone are the days when the court must hear lengthy testimony about he said/she said or whether this person dialed the required phone number at the appointed time.

Proof of Legal Notice

Email creates a precise record that John legally notified Marsha when Johnny’s soccer game will end. (The email notice is better than certified mail because certified mail only proves that a communication was delivered; it does not prove the content of the communication.)

Dynamics of Online Negotiation

Child custody is just one form of negotiated legal arrangement.  Other arrangements include contracts or labor disputes.

Business Deal
Negotiating via computer networks is different from negotiating the old-fashioned ways.  As a business lawyer, I learned to negotiate across a table, via telephone or through the postal service from books like Give and Take by Chester Karrass (1993).

Question to the reader: Have you seen a good resource on how to negotiate in the age of Skype, Twitter, text messages and collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365?

Fax and Email

In the mid-1990s I inserted in my book The Law of Electronic Commerce a chapter on negotiations via electronic communication.  In those days electronic communication meant fax and email.

One of the observations I made was that electronic communication tends to segment issues into little chunks.

This is what I meant.  In the old days, parties had to invest a lot of time/effort to meet in person.  So while in the presence of one another, they needed to cover many or all of the issues.

But people don’t like writing or reading long emails.  Their attention spans are too short.  So email communication engenders multiple threads, each covering a different issue through short messages.

This lesson will be lost on less talented negotiators.  They will write long emails and fail to get all the points across.

Different Dynamics

Online negotiations are not necessarily better or worse than old-fashioned ones.  They are just different.  Savvy negotiators will understand the different dynamics and capitalize on them for the situation.

So, back to child custody, the parent who understands the nuances of Google Calendar can be at an advantage for getting desired times and outcomes.



Mr. Wright teaches the law of data security and investigations for the SANS Institute.