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Dispute Resolution Society – Competition Winners. Part I

It hasn’t been long since I first learned about mediation. I was in undergrad, and during an environmental law class, my professor told me that I needed to take Environmental Alternative Dispute Resolution. It would be the best thing for me. So I did. This was in the summer of 2005. Through the class and specialized program, I learned how to conduct a mediation, as the mediator, with inflamed environmentalists opposing developers, machinists, hunters, and “big business.” A curious experience for someone raised in an extremely adversarial family.

Last spring, I received an email inviting students to compete onto the Dispute Resolution Society (DRS). Our school has a flourishing dispute resolution department, complete with a clinic, so it makes sense that we have a society, ran by students with advising faculty on the topic. I was trying to decide whether I wanted to be on such a team, when Laura emailed me asking if I wanted to be her negotiating partner.  Laura was a class section friend, and we’d traveled to D.C. to lobby together, but we hadn’t spent much time together, so I was a little surprised, but so honored that I could not say no. We got the ABA fact pattern, which is typically a contract case, and began discussing strategy.

Needless to say, after the intra-school competition for 1Ls, the team invited us to join DRS.  Laura and I complimented each other very well, and immediately started working on private communication techniques.  The 2L and 3L student judges were extremely impressed with our team partnership and communication skills. It felt like anyone who tried out was invited, but I was expressly told there were a few individuals who did not understand the purpose of the competition or the society, and they were not asked to join.  Although it built my ego, it also impressed upon me the professionalism of the group I just joined.

Flash forward to 2L year: Laura and I had not practiced dispute resolution techniques in months, when we received an email saying the intra-school competition was just around the corner, and if we wanted a chance at being one of the school’s competing teams, we had to do well. Twelve 2L and 3L teams competed that day. Each team competed twice, switching opponents and judges panels for the second round. The judges were noncompeting 3Ls and professors. The 3Ls knew how to compete, no 2L had competed in more than the 1L intra-school vetting competition.

Laura and I worked on our strategy and tried to discover any holes in the fact pattern before simply strategizing. The ABA fact pattern was a contract case again, and we were a video game company offering exciting opportunities to first a martial arts star, and then, in the second round, a screenwriter. We needed to get the contracts for as little money as possible, and each round was only 20 minutes long, which is no time at all. We did research into the video game market to price how much money our company would stand to gain, and presented stat sheets to the competition. The judges were extremely impressed with our preparedness and Laura can charm anyone.

The only real trouble with this competition, and why to this day I am surprised by that three 2L teams finished tops in the intra-school competition, was the fact that since no 2L had ever competed, we did not know how to give a self evaluation after the negotiating portion of the competition! Self evaluations are not only a time to show your strategy to the judge and how you used and adapted your strategy through the competition, but they are a factor in your judges’ scores. We did our best, but we made many mundane mistakes. After the evaluations, the judges gave their feedback, which was incredibly illuminating on the competition process and how to negotiate in general. I took a lot of notes that day.

Laura and I received an email a few days later announcing to the team that we were the third best team from the intra-school competition. Chris and Matt were the top, the Kayvon and Jordan.  The top two teams are sent to the ABA Negotiation Competition at Harvard in November, while the third team, us, was sent to a new competition: the St. John’s School of Law FINRA Securities Dispute Resolution Triathlon in New York City. We were told which competition we were going to attend two and a half weeks before Laura and I needed to be in NYC.  Further complicating things was the fact that only a week before competition, we finally understood the meaning of the all the rules for the competition and we needed a third member for our team. This is how Hannah, a 3L, joined the team.

Laura, Hannah, and I were not in the securities law class at school. None of us knew a thing about securities law. DRS put us in touch with the professor for securities, and for weeks, we met with him after his one weekly class (he only commutes in on Tuesdays) to learn everything we could about securities law. We also met with one of the school’s librarians who use to work in securities fraud litigation. We mooted against teams to practice for the three different rounds in the competition: negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. We had meetings with the DRS to hand out research. The society couldn’t help us strategize, but they could critique our performance and help us get ready. It was a whirlwind of securities law, negotiation, mediation, and arbitration, but we managed and even read for a few of our classes. Honestly, it was intense.

After two weeks of prep, breaking in a new team member, and learning what we could about arbitration (Laura and I had never directed or cross examined a witness before), we were packed onto the coolest bus for NYC. We had a lot of work to do on the Dartmouth Coach, so it’s a good thing it has WiFi and wall sockets! Our competition rounds required us to turn in strategy sheets to the judges, so we typed up our planned strategies, expressed how flexible we would be with the other team, and began memorizing securities law terms of art and important regulations. After so much fit into two weeks, hours of planning on the bus, and gnocchi at a nearby restaurant, we crashed into our hotel beds that Friday night.

The next morning, we put on our suits, printed off our strategy documents, and prepped over a quick breakfast.  I didn’t drink any coffee in case it made me jittery. We walked the two blocks to St. John’s, went through the security gate, and were greeted with “Team R” name badges and goody bags complete with 1GB jump drives. We went to the welcome orientation, then our sides’ briefing. The fact pattern was long, but not overly complicated once one understood securities transactions and how brokerage firms operate. We represented a broker who was being accused of immoral practices by an investing client and her neighbor, Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith invested a lot of money with our client’s firm and lost it all. All of the emotion was for the poor doctor who only wanted money to put his three children through college. We were the dirty dealing broker (not really dirty dealing), but we had a lot of law and policy on our side.  After the briefing on last minute details, we were off to meet the “opposing counsel” representing Dr. Smith in a settlement negotiation.

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