Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alumnus Spotlight: Dimitrios Efstathiou ’06

Dimitrios Efstathiou ’06 describes his position as Senior Counsel for Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing as one that requires him to wear multiple, sometimes competing hats. To keep those hats straight, Efstathiou turns to an old Negotiation Workshop friend—the Seven Elements worksheet.

“Major League Soccer is a single-entity league—the league owns all nineteen teams. So as in-house counsel there are times in negotiating contracts when I wear a ‘League hat’, others when I wear a ‘Team hat’ and many times when it’s a sort of hybrid of the two. Good preparation is essential.”

While each team has its own legal support, Efstathiou regularly assists teams with local broadcast and sponsorship agreements where he must attempt to meet both the team’s interests and the League’s interests. At times like these, he turns to the Seven Elements worksheet. “I list out the various parties and their respective interests, and note where those interests converge and diverge. I can then recognize what ‘hat’ I should be wearing for particular issues during the contract negotiations. Further, I highlight those interests that absolutely must be met, for both the League and/or the team.”

Efstathiou’s interest in negotiation began before he even moved to Cambridge, at a presentation by Prof. Robert Bordone, Director of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program and lead instructor of the Spring Negotiation Workshop, at an admitted students event. “It just clicked for me. It is easy to make the connection between negotiation skills and the legal profession.” But it was the additional framing of negotiation as something that happens in everyday life that truly resonated for Efstathiou. He considered the Negotiation Workshop as something that would significantly enhance his interpersonal communication skills as well.

As an undergraduate, Efstathiou used an academic lens to study various ethnic conflicts in Southeastern Europe (e.g., the collapse of former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Greek-Turkish border conflicts) and the potential avenues for non-violent resolution for those disputes at a grassroots level. But his perspective was intensely personal as well. His family is spread across a number of different countries, languages and economic backgrounds, making communication “at times entertaining and at other times strenuous.” Listening to Prof. Bordone talk about the Negotiation Workshop, Efstathiou envisioned the positive impact these skills could have in his life, both professionally and personally. He immediately signed up for the Workshop in his 1L year.

As a joint-degree student at both HLS and The Fletcher School at Tufts University, Efstathiou felt fortunate to have a luxurious four years to participate in the negotiation community at HLS. He took the Dealing with Emotions class and was a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Negotiation Workshop. “I was a TA for three years, co-teaching in both the Winter and Spring Workshops. I owe a lot to both the Lecturers and my fellow classmates. The TA experience ingrained the foundational Seven Elements in my mind so it became second nature for me to apply them in my professional and personal life,” says Efstathiou. “Before a meeting or conference call, I always spend a few minutes jotting down interests and criteria for both parties. It goes a long way towards framing the negotiation. And ascertaining my BATNA [best alternative to a negotiated agreement] gives me confidence before walking into the room. It allows me to gauge when it is sensible to walk away from the table. And in more personal negotiations (read: arguments!), I have found that separating intent from impact has helped me empathize and see through some of the more heated moments.”

“Not to mention the thousands of dollars in rent I have saved over the past seven years or so! Each time I enter into a new lease, I literally pull out the Seven Elements worksheet and fill it out. And each time, I think the landlord was a bit taken aback by my use of objective criteria and refusal to negotiate against myself.”

Regardless of whom he is negotiating with or which hat he is wearing, Efstathiou sticks to a straightforward negotiating style. “Major League Soccer has grown significantly since its inaugural season in 1996, adding six teams in the last five years and entering into large national broadcast and sponsorship agreements. Major League Soccer is no longer considered a fad but is now recognized as a permanent part of the professional sports landscape. And that sports and entertainment industry is a relatively small world, where character and reputation matter quite a bit. Having all the negotiation skills in the world is of little significance if your rep is poor. For that reason, I don’t like to use much puffery or diversions in negotiations. That way, from the outset, I can clearly communicate to the parties on the other side of the table which issues are ‘deal-breakers’ and in which areas I have more flexibility. As a result I am able to develop trust from the other side that I am a ‘straight-shooter’ that will not raise false issues.” And in Major League Soccer, being a straight-shooter is a valuable reputation to have.

 
Dimitrios Efstathiou is Senior Counsel for Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing, where he advises on a wide array of commercial and legal matters. Prior to joining the League, Dimitrios was in-house counsel at EFG International, a Swiss private bank, and an associate at Allen & Overy with the firm’s U.S. Corporate and Capital Markets practice. Dimitrios also serves on the Board of FC Harlem, a New York City urban soccer academy and leadership program. Dimitrios received his BA in International Studies and Italian from Vassar College, and subsequently worked as an Investigative Analyst in the Rackets Bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. In 2006 Dimitrios received his JD from Harvard Law School and MA in Law & Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University.