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Dispute Resolution Society – Competition Winners. Part IV – Arbitration Round

Laura was our “client” for the arbitration round, while Hannah and I were both advocates. Getting dressed that morning included a discussion of how to make teeny Laura look even more friendly: hair up, down? Glasses, no glasses? Everything is fair when you are trying to win over a panel of arbitrators, and since Laura was playing a broker at a brokerage firm who perhaps did not say the best thing to a client who wanted to invest his whole life savings, we had to get every point for sweetness that we could. Laura also had to be prepared to answer direct questions from me (in the real world, you cannot tell your client what to say), and cross-examination questions from opposing counsel. There were precise phrases from securities law she had to get exactly right and not look like she “just knew it” and hadn’t memorized it the night before.

The opposing team was a great match for us, though it was evident we had prepared more. They were extremely friendly, and they may have been the only other team without a coach at the competition. It was a team of two men, one woman, and all third years. The girl was their “client” for the round. They gave their opening statement, which is much like an introduction to an oral argument, and it was my turn. I had practiced my statement very hard so I could make as much eye contact with the panel as possible. Making eye contact is an axiomatic strategy for all oral presentations, and I think I did a very good job. The other team read a lot, and the judges commented on it later.

They called their client for direct questioning, and she did a good job of sounding like a professional (the character was a wealthy doctor) who had been injured, and couldn’t understand why her neighbor, our client, would allow such an injury to befall the doctor. She had legs crossed the whole time though, and I didn’t think it was a compelling position for serious person, so I immediately advised Laura in a written note to refrain from crossing her legs. Hannah did cross examination, and it was fantastic. Hannah boxed the “doctor” into the corner we wanted her in, and even had the girl identify her signature on a contract-type document which declared that the doctor knew that complete loss of all financial assets was a possibility. When the doctor tried to answer in conditional statements, Hannah quickly announced, “Please just answer the question,” and the girl would have to say “yes” or “no” to questions that brought in a lot of doubt for the complaint’s validity.

Then it was Laura’s turn. I did direct, leading her through the questions to which I already knew all the answers. She was great, giving precise explanations about securities law and how she, as a broker, did her due diligence, and if anything, the brokerage firm (went bankrupt) and the capricious stock market (recession) were to blame for the doctor’s misfortunes. My job in direct is to sound objective, and again, read as little as possible to give the dramatic effect that these are questions that the court/arbitration room should be curious about as well.  It helps when your client is Laura.

On cross, the arbitration panel had to step in a little, as did I. The advocate was doing a fine job, but his questions sometimes rambled or sounded like statements, not questions. It also appeared that this team had only been up against other teams with male clients, not female, as both opposing counsels repeatedly called Laura by masculine terms (i.e. “he” and “him”). The chief arbitrator corrected both advocates more than once for courtesy to my client. Even with the confusion and the occasion rambling or declaratory question, Laura led the counsel by the nose. She controlled the entire cross-examination. If he tried to get her to make a yes or no statement to something she didn’t want to admit, she would start her yes or no with a conditional phrase, such as “If I understand that you are asking me_________, then _____.” It was superb. The panel later called her a “tiger!” All 100 pounds of her. During one long, rambling statement-like question, I finally objected, “Objection! Is this even a question?” The chief panelist sustained the first objection I had ever made in my life, and told opposing counsel to get to the point and make all inquiries in the form of a question.  There was only one point when we knew we hadn’t done the best job possible. Opposing counsel asked a question in a peculiar way, and Laura didn’t get a chance to properly answer the question in the time allotted. It was a huge point that we thought we got across in direct, but apparently we should have covered the topic more thoroughly.

We all had to leave the room for the judges to deliberate and hand down their arbitral award. It took quite a while. The student ambassador for our room told us that two of the judges were in a heated argument about the award. When we returned to the room, we had successfully lowered the initial complaint award by half (not too shabby), but could not have the mark on our broker’s name removed. The arbitrators told us it would not affect our client’s ability to work in the securities field, so although we thought it was a major point, the judges who work in the securities field, did not see it that way. In the end, we were very pleased with the arbitration award, but wished we could have done better.

We completed the analysis of the round with everyone in the room this time, and received some good feedback. Then we talked with the other team, who were just so great and professional. Possibly the best experience was when the “client” from the other team told us she thought we were from Harvard Law, and she wasn’t kidding. The judges and other team were very impressed that the majority of our team was only in the second year of law school and had not taken any evidence or court room prep classes. After exchanging emails, we rushed back to the hotel to change into street clothes check out of the hotel.

We had just enough time to return to the school for the awards ceremony and participate in the provided lunch. In true VLS fashion, we were the only ones in jeans and colorful scarves, surrounded by 21 other schools in their best suits, watches, and pearls. We sat at the table with the other arbitration round team, and hoped we would get to see some of the winning teams before rushing off to the train station to catch to stay on a very precisely planned return to VLS. As we ate, we discussed the competition and our law schools with the other competitors. This was the point when everyone was allowed to tell where they came from. The organizers of the competition took a picture of every competing team before beginning the closing speeches and the award ceremony. The negotiation round winners were the first to be announced: “Team R.” Laura’s jaw dropped, Hannah beamed, and I awkwardly tried to figure out what to do with my hands. It took us a bit to know they had said our team letter, and they had to say it again followed by “from Vermont Law School.” By this point, I stood up halfway like we might go up to the podium, but the rest of my team hadn’t moved in their chairs, so I sat back down. The head of the event seemed to understand our confusion and invited us to the podium for a picture.

Hannah has received medals before for ice-skating competitions. She gracisouly took a medal, placed it over Laura’s head, then me. I took the last medal, and placed it over Hannah’s head as everyone collectively sighed “awww.” It was the most awkward awarding moment ever, not to mention, again, we were the only people in the room in street clothes. They took our pictures and we, thankfully, got to sit back down. I don’t know remember which other teams won the other rounds, or won the overall competition (the same team that won the arbitration round won overall), but it was not any of the teams we competed against. I would really like to see the competition winners’ pictures, just to see how awkward we really looked.

After the last award was handed out, we grabbed our bags and booked it to a taxi corner. We rushed onto our train, and started sending out text messages and making phones calls to family, friends, and our DRS buddies who had done so much to help us prepare. This really was a society win. Then another taxi to the independent airport where they weighed our bags and us to be sure they could evenly distribute the weight in the 12-seater plane. We relaxed on the leather lounge chairs for a little, and then walked the few yards to the plane, received instructions from the captain, who Laura sat next to as the co-pilot (she was put in charge of the cabin temperature), and we we flew off into the sunset (literally).


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