Category Archives: Professional Development

Contracting as a Specialty

I have written before on how a contracts professional can justify their position within an organization.  One of the hardest groups to convert to your way of thinking, however, can be lawyers.  It’s interesting when you can get the lawyers to admit this because they are well aware of the value of specialization and the nature of what is taught in law school.  For those of you not graced by the opportunity to spend at least three years of your life burrowing into the method of how to “think like a lawyer”, please allow me to explain.

Law school creates generalists.  Your curriculum usually spends 1.5 years on the 10 basic classes: Criminal Law/Procedure, Civil Law/Procedure, Constitutional Law (usually long enough to require 2 separate courses), Torts, Evidence, Legal Writing and Contracts.  The rest of that second year and part of the third is usually focused on electives: tax, business, alternative dispute resolution, intellectual property, etc.  The last part of the third year (distributed in part of the second and third years, actually) is almost always some sort of practicum or clinic experience along with some trial advocacy skills and legal ethics.

So at the end of this endurance test, newly minted lawyers have had exactly ONE class on most of the various subject matters that they’ll encounter in practice.  This is pretty frightening to some if you consider that some new lawyers immediately hang their own shingle and go into practice for themselves.  Contrary to the educational system of the past, then, these lawyers now have to learn on the job with live clients.

This is true of contracting.  If they took an elective on contract drafting, then fine, they had two classes.  But still – a sum total of 1 academic year of discussion on contract theory and drafting is not a lot when you consider the vast nature of the space.  Software licensing, hardware purchase agreements and other tech-related contracts are but one type of contract.  Services agreements, nondisclosure agreements, regulatory-related agreements and others add to the mix (and we haven’t even talked about things like Statements of Work or other more business-y agreements).

Add to this the fact that contracting doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Contract negotiations are the method by which two or more parties come together to agree on the needed and acceptable language.  Negotiation is but one facet of alternative dispute resolution – and again, unless taken as an elective, hasn’t necessarily been formally taught to a law student.

All this is to say that it makes sense that contract professionals exist in this world as a specialty service.  In fact, some contract professionals even only specialize in one type of contractual agreement.  Lawyers should therefore: a) not assume that their law degree grants them the knowledge to automatically operate in this space without additional training; and b) remember that specialization is a hallmark of the law business – so they shouldn’t be afraid of seeking assistance from contracting specialists when they’re approached for this type of service.

Lawyers in the crowd may be booing me at this point, but wait!  All is not lost.  There is VALUE in using specialists to do this work for you:

  • First, is that top-tier contract professionals aren’t cheap.  We don’t bill at the rate of a DC Partner, but we’re not giving work away, either.
  • Second, contract professionals are efficient.  It takes me, on average, about an hour to read and redline two-to-four pages of dense material.
  • Third, contract professionals have their eye on the prize.  We’ve seen enough deals (because this is what we do) to know what’s really important and what can be passed over.  We know when to fight and when to concede.

Combined together, this means that your average specialist takes less time to produce more quality work – and what’s billed is still “acceptable” to both sides.  Lawyers and law firms alike should remember that they don’t need to go it alone (regardless of whether they’re in-house or out in the world).  Contracts professionals aren’t trying to be lawyers (even if a contract professional or two happens to be one) – they just want to be contracting specialists… and they can help a lawyer spend their time more efficiently and effectively, too.


IACCM and other contracting groups

I launched Skribit suggestions over a year ago to attract ideas for these posts and to-date, I have to say that it’s not been as successful as I’d hoped.  Either that means that I’m giving you all what you want, or you’re not seeing the suggestion box, or it doesn’t really matter and I’m just another form of entertainment.  🙂

In any event, I received the suggestion “IACCM” the other day.  No instruction, no guide… just IACCM.  Do you want dirt?  A recommendation to join?  Positive comments about the organization?  OK.  I’ll give you everything I know.

For contracts professionals, IACCM is one of three major (Caucus and NCMA are the other two), and a handful of minor, professional organizations you can join to hopefully provide you with resources and connections to other contracts people.  These organizations are membership-based, relying on membership dues along with other sources of revenue to exist.  Generally speaking, they all have some sort of platform to keep members communicating with each other (such as a forum), a resume/jobs area, and additional for-purchase information available to members (and sometimes non-members, too).  Oh, and they provide certifications, too.

As an association professional, my wife would kill me if I didn’t say that these types of organizations are indispensable.  And for the most part, I think she’s correct.  They provide immensely valuable information and networking opportunities and are a must-have for anyone who is new to the profession.

IACCM in particular focuses on the international nature of contracting and the special relationship between organizations dealing on a global scale.  They hold at least one annual conference both in the US and somewhere abroad. IACCM’s certification program is academia-based and is centered on a person’s history as a contracts professional and their contribution to the profession as a whole.  They offer a forum for members to discuss various topics, a jobs board and resume database, and they offer research reports based primarily on surveys of the membership.  From a business perspective, IACCM is a true association – a non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors and managed by Tim Cummins and his staff.

Caucus is more US-based – and as a for-profit organization, is designed around a consulting practice whereby ICN consultants provide contracts and vendor management-related information to buyer-clients.  Caucus is, by their own definition, a procurement-only organization, founded under the belief that sales teams obtain thousands of hours of training a year and buyers get almost none.  As such, the one-sided viewpoint skews their offerings, but the annual conference and other provided training materials are well-received by the membership.  Like IACCM, Caucus provides a members-only forum to ask/answer questions of your peers and they have a certification program that is program-based (take course, take test).  As previously stated, Caucus is privately held and while members pay an annual membership fee, the organization’s behavior is guided by the owners of the organization rather than a Board.

NCMA – the National Contract Management Association is also an association governed by a Board and it is also the oldest of the three (since 1959).  It offers the same basic services, as well as certifications, but its unstated target membership is government-related contract professionals.  Membership in NCMA rewards you with extremely valuable government-related contracting information and even a quarterly magazine.

Overall, membership in these organizations can be quite rewarding and extremely valuable for the networking and basic business information received.  True value from participating in any of these types of organizations comes from the interactions between the members.  Certifications offer a less-experienced individual the chance to show dedication to the profession as well as base-line competency in certain key areas.  People considering membership in any group should pay attention to the benefits for membership, the cost and the target member profile.  If you’re not receiving value, ongoing membership isn’t necessarily beneficial and should be reviewed annually.

But again, remember, these organizations really only give as much as they receive.  In other words, if you buy-in and expect a core-dump from them to you, it simply is never going to happen.  You need to get involved.  Ask or answer questions in the forums; offer to teach if you’ve got the experience.  Attend the conferences if you’re financially able.  Above all, meet the other people at these events as they will be the ones sitting across the table from you someday.