Book Review: Legal Blacksmith — How to Avoid and Defend Supply Chain Disputes

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We are in the middle of a great period for procurement and supply chain books, with several very impressive examples being published over the last two years or so. (We’ve linked to our overview of some of those at the end of this article).

Now, there is another impressive publication to add to the list. "Legal Blacksmith – How to Avoid and Defend Supply Chain Disputes" has a different perspective to any book we have seen previously in our sector. Written by Rosemary Coates and Sarah Rathke, it is not a legal “textbook” but contains a wealth of interesting and helpful legal information, based on both legislation and case studies, all placed in a context that is genuinely useful for the supply chain practitioner.

Coates is a supply chain practitioner and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in firms including HP ad KPMG, while Rathke is a trial attorney whose practice focuses on supply chain disputes and related litigation involving manufacturing. That blend of legal expertise and the practitioner viewpoint works very well here. Unlike some books we have reviewed with multiple authors, you “can’t see the join”; the authors write in a similar and effective style, and even the technical legal issues are explained and described clearly. Although much of the content by definition relates to fairly complex matters, it is a very readable book and it doesn’t feel like hard work to consult or study it.

The general organization of the book is for each chapter topic to be described in a reasonably high level overview. Clearly, a few pages on “supply chain risk” or “forecasting and planning” can’t cover the topic in the way that entire books on a single subject do. But those overviews are useful and relevant, and then lead into the “legal overview” — a discussion of the legal issues around the topic, illustrated by examples of relevant cases. The focus is on what to do (or not do) to avoid the sort of issues that have come up in the past. Each chapter then closes with a brief “lessons learned” section.

Most of the legal information and cases featured are U.S.-based. But there is some coverage of other jurisdictions — for instance, mentions of the U.K.’s Anti-Bribery Act and Modern Slavery Act of 2015, also demonstrating that the book is very much up to the minute. Overall though, it is probably aimed at readers with a primary focus on the U.S., although many of the good practice points made do apply in many countries, even if the specific laws might be slightly different.

You don’t have to be a legal geek to find much of interest here. I suspect any procurement professional (and indeed many legal pros) would learn something useful. I had no idea, for instance, of the legal issues around “blanket purchase orders” and whether the lack of a firm quantity defined in such orders actually makes a contract non-binding. And reading the chapter on “warranties” made me wish that I’d had this book to hand during my days in purchasing in the manufacturing sector!

It is worth highlighting that this is a book that does have a clear supply chain focus. So there are chapters on warehousing and logistics, importing and exporting, warranties and supply chain risk. Most of the material really relates to manufacturing or retail environments and to the issues around goods. There is perhaps a parallel book to be written that would look in a similar way at (for example) legal issues in the procurement of marketing services. That topic is not covered here, where we are very much in the world of buying, shipping, storing and using goods in a manufacturing process or perhaps a retail supply chain. However, some of the chapters, for instance, those on “Changing the Supply Chain Agreement” and “Dispute Resolution” have considerable wider application.

For anyone with an interest in legal matters around supply chain management, particularly in that manufacturing or retail type environment, this is a very worthwhile addition to the bookshelves. It is surprisingly readable for what sounds like a dry topic, and the advice is very sound. If it reduces the chance of the reader getting into a legal dispute by even a small percentage, which it will for many, it will pay for itself many times over.

(See our summary here of other worthwhile procurement related books from the last year or two).

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