ABA Law Student Division Negotiation Competition Comes to Campus

By Jaime Welsh

On November 7th and 8th, UConn Law will be hosting the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Student Division Negotiation Competition for Region 1. Approximately 24 teams and 100 students will gather at the Law School, with participants coming from the Eastern United States and Canada.

The competition “simulates legal negotiations in which law students, acting as lawyers, negotiate a series of legal problems” with the simulations “consist[ing] of a common set of facts known by all participants and confidential information known only to the participants representing a particular side,” according to the ABA website. The winning team will advance to the ABA National Negotiation Finals Competition in Houston, Texas. The topic for the Competition is torts.

The Region 1 Negotiation Competition will take place over two days. On Friday, each team will participate in two, 50-minute qualifying rounds. The qualifying rounds will end with each team reflecting and then presenting 10 minutes of self-analysis to the judges before receiving feedback and scoring. Friday night there will be a reception to allow the teams to socialize outside of the competition setting. The top four teams in the qualifying rounds will advance to the final round on Saturday morning, which will also be composed of two, 50-minute rounds with self-analysis.

Teams are scored on seven criteria: negotiation planning, flexibility in deviating from plans or adapting strategy, outcome of the session, teamwork, relationship between the negotiating teams, self-analysis, and negotiating ethics.

Professor Jessica Rubin heads the Law School’s efforts in organizing the Negotiation Competition. Rubin submitted a proposal to the ABA that detailed why UConn Law should host the Region 1 competition and was selected. Also involved in organizing the event are staff members from the IT Department, the Library, Special Events, the Dean’s office, and Dean Timothy Fisher.

UConn Law is a unique host for this competition with respect to the composition and preparation of the judges. All but five of the participating 40 judges are practicing, experienced lawyers or law school professors. Their experience ranges from criminal to civil, with transactional attorneys and litigators, and both the public and the private sector will be represented. Over half of the judges will be UConn Law alumni. As for the five judges who are not lawyers, each of them negotiates or mediates as part of their career. “If someone is not a lawyer, then their job involves negotiation,” commented Rubin.

Students will be judged by panels of three, and two of the judges on the panel must be lawyers. There will be stringent conflict checks to ensure fairness of judging. Before the start of the morning and afternoon rounds on Friday, and on Saturday morning, all of the participants will gather to meet the judges. This ensures that students and judges do not know one another by either name or visual sight. If there is a conflict, the Negotiation Competition organizers will ensure that the students compete before a different panel of judges. In addition, no judge with UConn Law connections – other than being a graduate of the Law School – will judge one of the UConn Law teams. One of the interesting ABA rules is that students are not allowed to reveal what team they represent to the judges.

“The greatest thing about running this event has been reaching out to former students and reaching out to people in the negotiating and mediating community and getting them excited to help our students,” said Rubin.

Further, all of the Negotiation Competition judges were sent the problem materials and guidelines for judging well in advance in order to best prepare. In this way, all feedback given to students will be well informed both by preparation and experience. Other negotiation competitions have had student judges, recent graduates as judges, or judges who are not prepared more than a day in advance. Rubin commented that she worked to select judges who are effective teachers.

The final rounds will be judged by a panel of four professionals consisting of: an academic, a Connecticut practitioner with a focus on criminal litigation, a Connecticut practitioner with a focus on corporate transactional work, and a Connecticut practitioner with a focus on mediation.

UConn Law is sending three teams of second and third year students. Team members include: Benjamin Schimelman, Kevin Matyger, Aaron Baral, Alex Cox, Pamela Bass, Malcolm Ranger-Murdock, Joshua Thompson*, Christopher Stanton*, Sarah Polio*, and Spencer Hill*. Names marked by an asterisk indicate alternates. UConn Law’s student coaches include: Thomas Holmgren, Connor Simpson, and Spencer Hill. Rubin noted that she chose UConn Law’s teams based on past competition performance, performance in UConn Law’s First Annual Intramural Negotiation Competition, and student interest. Six of the competitors first competed in the Law School’s intramural negotiation competition in September.

Third year student Pamela Bass is coordinating the UConn Law teams in her role as President of the Negotiation & Dispute Resolution Society (the Society). According to Bass, UConn Law teams are preparing for the Negotiation Competition by engaging in a series of sparring sessions against members of the Society. No students outside of the main competitors have the confidential team information so sparring partners are creating their own facts to go off of.

“The more creative they can make issues, the more the team has to think and be nimble going into [the Negotiation Competition],” explains Bass. This creativity helps to simulate the actual competition, where UConn Law team members will not have information confidential to the opposing team.

Interested students are encouraged to view the Final Rounds of the Negotiation Competition on Saturday, November 8th. All rounds are open to the public and will take place in the Law Library.

Looking forward, Professor Rubin is collaborating with a faculty member at UConn’s School of Business to organize and host a negotiation competition in the spring that will be open to both law and business students.