International Negotiation Competition 2022: A Female Law Student’s Insight into the World of Legal Practice
In July, I found myself in Omaha Nebraska, competing in Team England at the International Negotiation Competition. I found myself wondering how exactly I had ended up there. 6 months before I knew nothing about negotiation; I was still a green first year law student with limited knowledge of legal practices outside the basics of a criminal trial. Even now, I find myself questioning how during the second half of my first year, I ended up coming second place in an international law students’ competition.
Negotiation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Of all the many forms of ADR, negotiation is the least formal. Simply put, in negotiation, different parties sit down together and discuss to reach an agreement or resolve a dispute. Negotiation is also not exclusive to the legal industry and can occur in many areas of life, such as salary negotiations. At its simplest level, everyone negotiates throughout their life!
You might wonder how this lends itself to a competition format. I certainly wasn’t aware that international competitions existed for this type of legal work. In negotiation competitions each team (usually consisting of two people) represents a client. After receiving a set of confidential information about the client’s interests, opinions, assets etc. the different parties will meet and attempt to negotiate an agreement. The subject matter can vary widely in each round, which in turn, impacts the strategy and style of negotiation. Sometimes the parties are working towards a mutually beneficial goal, allowing for friendly negotiations. Other times, the scenario calls for conflict resolution and the negotiation is much more cautious. Moreover, the number of parties can vary, normally it is a two-party negotiation, but occasionally a multi-party scenario is written. In the competition setting, teams are scored on various criteria such as strategy, ethics, inter-party relationships and more, with the best scoring team winning overall.
I started negotiating in a competition in my university law society. I entered the competition as a learning experience because I was curious and was randomly placed with a partner. After that competition I was asked to represent the university at the regional rounds of the national competition and ended up at the national finals. In England and Wales, the national competition is run by CEDR (Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), and the finals were held at their head office in London. The national final took place over the course of one day, with three intense rounds held back-to-back throughout the day. I was very aware of being one of the youngest competitors, with most other students at least in their second year and some already doing their LPC or further study. Coming first place at the nationals was a welcome surprise, although we’d worked hard to achieve it, and a few months later we were on the plane to the US to compete internationally.
Competing internationally was a different level. Nearly all the teams were national champions of their own countries and there were teams from all over the world, from Brazil to Singapore. When negotiating internationally there were different challenges than we had previously encountered. While the competition was held in English and all teams had a high standard of English, there were still language barriers when competing. Additionally, different countries have different styles of negotiating.
Successful negotiation involves asking a lot of questions; the more you can understand about the other side’s motives, thought process and priorities, the more you can offer things that will be valuable to them and phrase things in a way that will seem more appealing. Throughout the CEDR national competition, we were encouraged to negotiate in a friendly and pleasant manner, while still professional, the emphasis was on building working relationships. However, some other countries had a more aggressive style.
The difference in negotiation styles was also notable in gender. My teammate was also a woman and there were moments where we noticed we were the only women in the room. The final round of the international was a four-party negotiation. Four teams of two. Of the eight competitors there were three women. Facing multiple teams made up solely of men, who had more aggressive negotiation styles meant that we had to fight on occasion to have our voices heard. While we remained firm and ended up being very successful, there were moments where we felt disheartened. Having to enter a competition with a strategy on how to handle teams that may not let us talk was frustrating, an extra ‘strategy’ that other teams may not have been burdened with needing to prepare.
While 52% of UK solicitors today are women,1 this is still a reality for women across the legal profession. Women are still underrepresented at partner level and some law firms have cultures that do not support the success of women. In the bar, similar patterns are seen; 38.8% of barristers are women but only 17.9% of QCs are women.2 With over half of women in legal practice reporting that they have experienced or witnessed sexism at work,3 we must ask what we can do to make working in law a more accessible culture that allows women to thrive, succeed and be heard. Overall, the experience was unforgettable. Negotiating at such a high international level felt like a privilege and a unique insight into the world of practicing law. Unfortunately, some of that insight was into the reality that many women practicing law today still experience daily. The exhausting experience of having to speak louder than anyone else in the room just to be listened to.
Written by Emily Wanstall