Business Negotiation December 12, 2023

Legal Intimidation and How to Handle It During Negotiations

It’s regrettable that the legal profession is held in such disrepute. Newspapers are full of stories about lawyers who abuse their clients and charge unconscionable fees. It is no surprise that so many people wonder if the legal system and its army of lawyers are out of control. Lawyer jokes say much about the frustration people feel.

Almost everyone is afraid of getting involved in legal battles. Disdain for the profession is pervasive. People are intimidated by the threat of legal action, and for good reason. In an extended legal battle opposing lawyers are certain to expose weaknesses in your procedures, policies, and judgments. They can cause the most competent and self-respecting executives to lose confidence in themselves. In a lawsuit, business secrets may be exposed. Is it any wonder that we are intimidated by lawyers and lawsuits?

In addition to the stress of going through a lawsuit, we have to consider the huge costs involved. Top lawyers earn $1000 an hour. It’s easy to run up a bill of two or three hundred thousand dollars on even a simple matter. Fortunately, some effective negotiation strategies can help you defend against legal intimidation and mitigate these frustrating tactics.

What is Legal Intimidation?

By definition, legal intimidation is a negotiation strategy that relies on leveraging legal threats or maneuvers to gain a perceived advantage. This approach spans a spectrum, ranging from subtle implications of potential legal action to employing overt tactics that exploit legal complexities. By doing so, it creates an atmosphere of fear, coercion, and uncertainty, compelling the opposing party to make concessions under duress.

Intimidation Laws in the United States

In the United States, the legality of intimidation in negotiation is subject to a nuanced legal landscape. While there isn't a universal set of professional conduct rules applicable to attorneys globally, specific guidelines and codes of conduct are established by legal authorities in different jurisdictions.

However, the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct, serves as a reference for many jurisdictions in the United States and has rules specifically addressing lawyer intimidation:

Rule 4.4 - Respect for Rights of Third Persons

A lawyer is not allowed to employ tactics that serve no significant purpose other than causing embarrassment, delay, or burden to a third person. Additionally, they must refrain from knowingly utilizing methods to obtain evidence that infringes upon the legal rights of such an individual.

Rule 4.1 - Truthfulness in Statements to Others

Lawyers are prohibited from intentionally making false statements regarding material facts or laws to a third party. They are also obligated to disclose material facts if it is necessary to prevent their client from engaging in criminal or fraudulent activities, except when such disclosure is restricted by Rule 1.6.

Rule 4.3 - Dealing with Unrepresented Person

When talking to someone without any representation, a lawyer cannot pretend to be impartial and must try to clear up any misunderstandings about their role.

Rule 4.5 - Respect for Rights of Third Persons

Attorneys are barred from participating in behavior that undermines the administration of justice, which includes deliberately advocating a stance to harass or inflict malicious harm on any individual.

It's essential to note that these rules are just a few examples, and they may vary between jurisdictions. However, violating these professional expectations can come with serious consequences. Understanding the legal boundaries and implications provides negotiators with a framework for engaging in fair and lawful strategies. It ensures that negotiations are conducted with respect for legal standards and ethical considerations.

Examples of Legal Intimidation Tactics in the Negotiation Process

Legal intimidation tactics manifest in diverse forms, each strategically aimed at exerting pressure on the opposing party. Recognizing and understanding these tactics is crucial for negotiators seeking to mitigate their impact on the negotiation process.

Below are intimidation tactics used by legal professionals to manipulate a negotiation process unfairly:

Aggressive Posturing

Employing aggressive posturing involves adopting confrontational language and a hostile demeanor. This tactic creates a sense of urgency, forcing the opposing party to feel compelled to make concessions.

Frivolous Legal Threats

The issuance of legal threats without genuine legal merit is a common tactic. These threats are intended to intimidate and coerce the other party into compliance, leveraging the fear of potential legal consequences.

Exploiting Legal Vulnerabilities

Some negotiators exploit vulnerabilities in the legal system, such as ambiguous laws or potential delays in legal proceedings. This tactic introduces uncertainty and aims to pressure the opposing party into accepting demands.

Excessive Document Requests

Requesting an overwhelming number of documents or information during negotiations serves as a form of lawyer intimidation. It inundates the other party with paperwork, making it challenging for them to concentrate on the core issues of the negotiation.

Selective Quoting of Laws

Skillful negotiators may selectively quote laws or regulations to bolster their position, even if the interpretation is dubious. This creates an illusion of legal authority and can induce compliance through a perceived legitimacy.

Recognizing and understanding these examples empowers negotiators to respond effectively to legal intimidation tactics in negotiation. By promoting an environment based on fairness, transparency, and mutual respect, negotiators can ensure that the negotiation process is conducted ethically and per legal standards.

When are Intimidation Tactics Illegal?

While assertiveness is inherent in negotiation, as mentioned earlier, there are legal boundaries that, when crossed, make some intimidation tactics illegal. Determining the threshold between assertiveness and illegality is crucial for maintaining ethical negotiation practices and ensuring fair and just outcomes. Whether one's actions violate the law or not will depend on one's jurisdiction.

Can You Press Charges or Sue Someone for Threatening You?

In extreme cases where legal intimidation tactics in negotiation breach legal boundaries, individuals may consider pressing charges or taking legal action. Understanding the legal recourse available in response to such threats during negotiations is essential for protecting your rights and interests.

Possible Legal Recourses for Legal Intimidation


  • Reporting to the Bar: Individuals can report unethical lawyer intimidation to their local Bar Association. Bar Associations have mechanisms for investigating and addressing professional misconduct.
  • Pressing Charges: Depending on the severity of the threat, individuals may have the option to press criminal charges if the intimidation tactics cross into criminal territory.
  • Taking Legal Action: Civil lawsuits may be pursued if the intimidation tactics result in damages or losses, providing a means to seek compensation or injunctions.
  • Local Bar Association:
  • Consultation with an Attorney: Seeking advice from an attorney who specializes in ethics or professional responsibility can guide the best course of action.
  • Reaching Out to Legal Aid: Legal aid organizations may offer assistance to individuals who face legal intimidation and require legal representation but cannot afford private counsel.

It's crucial to note that legal recourse will depend on the specific circumstances and jurisdiction. Consulting with legal professionals and utilizing available resources can help you effectively address legal intimidation and uphold your rights in negotiation scenarios.

How Legal Intimidation Affects Negotiation

Legal intimidation casts a dark shadow over the negotiation process, creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Understanding its effects is crucial for those negotiating, regardless of the professional and personal contexts.


Below are some of the impacts intimidating legal threats can have during a crucial negotiation process:


  1. Heightened Tension: Legal intimidation injects a sense of apprehension and tension into the negotiation environment, creating an atmosphere where parties may feel guarded or reluctant to engage openly.
  2. Distrust and Secrecy: The fear of legal consequences may foster an environment of distrust, leading negotiators to withhold information or engage in secretive tactics to protect their interests.
  3. Altered Communication Dynamics: The potential legal ramifications can distort communication dynamics, inhibiting free and open exchanges of information. Parties may become more cautious in their communication, impacting the natural flow of discussions.
  4. Defensive Decision-Making: The looming threat of legal action may influence decision-making processes, prompting negotiators to make choices based on a desire to avoid legal entanglements rather than pursuing mutually beneficial outcomes.
  5. Distorted Priorities: Legal intimidation can shift priorities away from the core issues at hand, as parties may focus more on protecting themselves legally rather than seeking collaborative solutions to the underlying problems.
  6. Impaired Problem-Solving: The collaborative and solution-oriented nature of negotiations may be compromised, as legal concerns take precedence, potentially hindering effective problem-solving and compromise.
  7. Prolonged Negotiation Timelines: The introduction of legal complexities may drag out the negotiation process as parties navigate potential legal pitfalls, leading to extended timelines and wasted financial resources.


Understanding these impacts is essential to navigate legal intimidation strategically and work towards mitigating its disruptive effects on the negotiation process.

What Can You Do to Reduce the Impact of Legal Intimidation Tactics in Negotiation?

Mitigating legal intimidation in negotiation requires a strategic and informed approach. Below are some practical insights and actionable strategies to help individuals and businesses protect themselves from the negative consequences of intimidation tactics.


  • Few threats to sue end in lawsuits. When the other party threatens, don’t overreact. They may talk big but be unwilling to pay the costs or do the work that goes with legal action. Keep talking.
  • Build the cost of legal action into your overhead and pricing strategy. Legal intimidation is less effective when you have the cash to defend against it.
  • Build mediation and arbitration into your business relationships. It reduces the tendency toward legal adventurism.
  • It pays to put an attorney on retainer or to hire one for your staff if business warrants. It will help avoid legal pitfalls before they arise. If legal problems are allowed to fester, the cost of protecting yourself will rise. Getting good legal advice early on pays for itself.
  • When a serious lawsuit threatens, use the services of the best law firm you can afford. The difference between a good firm and a mediocre one is enormous.

Navigating legal intimidation requires patience and training. While threats may not always lead to lawsuits, maintaining open communication is crucial. Being prepared for threatening behavior before it ever occurs can help maintain emphasis on the importance of achieving the end goal—a successful negotiation outcome.

Learn New Tactics and Develop Your Negotiation Skills with KARRASS

It's time to take control and elevate your negotiation skills with the KARRASS Effective Negotiating® program. Imagine having the insights and tactics used by industry leaders in your negotiation toolbox stop lawyer intimidation in its tracks.

Enrolling in KARRASS training means immersing yourself in crucial negotiation strategies that will help you come away with countless negotiation advantages, including:

  • Proven Negotiation Strategies: Apply practical strategies that have a proven track record of success in a multitude of negotiation scenarios conducted by Dr. Karrass over his storied career.
  • Strategic Insights: Gain in-depth insights into the strategic nuances of negotiation, allowing you to navigate legal intimidation with confidence.
  • Tactical Toolbox: Acquire a diverse set of negotiation tactics used by industry leaders, providing you with a powerful toolbox to combat and counter legal intimidation effectively.
  • Real-world Application: Immerse yourself in real-world examples and case studies, bridging the gap between theory and practical application in negotiations.
  • Interactive Learning: Participate in interactive sessions that enhance your negotiation skills, ensuring you can actively apply learned strategies in challenging situations.
  • Prevention and Mitigation: Learn the intricacies of how legal intimidation begins and discover proactive strategies to prevent and mitigate its impact during negotiations.
  • Control in Challenging Situations: Equip yourself with the tools to maintain control when facing aggressive posturing, frivolous legal threats, or exploitation of legal vulnerabilities.


More than 1.5 million people have trained with KARRASS over the last 55 years. Effective Negotiating® is designed to work for all job titles and job descriptions, for the world’s largest companies and individual business people.

Effective Negotiating® is offered In-Person in a city near you, or Live-Online from our Virtual Studios to your computer. See the complete schedule here.

THE PROGRAM WAS GREAT! MY SEMINAR LEADER AND THE STRUCTURE OF THE COURSE KEPT ME CONSTANTLY STIMULATED. I NOW AM BETTER PREPARED TO GO INTO AN IMPORTANT NEGOTIATION MEETING AND STAY IN CONTROL, WHILE FINISHING THE MEETING SATISFIED.

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CASE MANAGER at THE JACKSON LABORATORY

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BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER at THE M.K. MORSE COMPANY

EXCELLENT COURSE, BRINGS MORE CONFIDENCE IN MY ABILITY TO NEGOTIATE. I THINK THIS COURSE IS A MUST FOR ALL EMPLOYEES WHO DEAL WITH CUSTOMERS.

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PROCUREMENT at AMERICAN EXPRESS

THIS PROGRAM HAS GREATLY INCREASED MY CONFIDENCE AND ABILITY TO NEGOTIATE FOR MYSELF AS WELL AS MY COMPANY.

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THE NEGOTIATING CLASS WAS VERY INFORMATIVE. THE INSTRUCTOR PROVIDED AN INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE THAT CAN BE APPLIED TO EVERYDAY LIFE.

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INTERNATIONAL SOURCING at FMC TECHNOLOGIES

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VICE PRESIDENT at GE

PRIOR TO THIS CLASS I FELT AS THOUGH I WAS GETTING EATEN ALIVE BY INTERNAL NEGOTIATIONS WITH SALES REPS. NOW I FEEL PREPARED TO CHALLENGE WHAT THEY ARE SAYING AND BET TO THEIR REAL NEEDS.

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PLANNER at HONEYWELL

MANY PEOPLE FAIL TO ACHIEVE THEIR POTENTIAL BECAUSE THEY DON’T SEE THE OPPORTUNITIES TO NEGOTIATE A WIN/WIN AGREEMENT WITH THEIR COLLEAGUES. THIS CLASS IS AN EYE OPENER TO THIS DYNAMIC..

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CONTRACTS MANAGER at HEWLETT-PACKARD
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