The ABA’s Negotiation Competition, now in its 27th year, was held in Dallas in early February. After a long and hard-fought journey, KaLynn Alley and Lara Smith of the University of Oregon School of Law emerged as national champions.
This year, 226 teams from 110 law schools across the United States and Canada participated in the competition. During the fall and winter, 10 regional competitions were held. The top 24 teams from those competitions advanced to the finals in Dallas.
During each round of the competition, teams negotiate against one another for 50-minute sessions. Their negotiations are based on fact patterns regarding a dispute between two parties. Each side is provided with general information about the dispute and confidential facts pertaining to their individual clients. Performances are assessed by a panel of judges, made up of legal professionals, including attorneys in public and private practice and federal and state judges. The judges evaluate the competitors based on strategy, flexibility, outcome, teamwork, cooperation with the opposing team, and self-assessment.
During the first day of the competition, each team negotiated twice—in the morning and in the afternoon—to determine who would advance to the semifinal round the next day. The 16 highest performers competed again the next morning, before being whittled down to the top four teams for the final round.
In the final round, Alley and Smith negotiated against Amanda Shaw and Kenny Bentley from the University of Georgia School of Law, Anthony Chester and Lauren Prew from Michigan State University College of Law, and Carrie Schneider and Max Bunge from Hamline University School of Law. While judges were highly impressed by the skills of the student competitors, Alley and Smith’s seamless teamwork and well-developed strategies helped them secure the championship title.
Alley and Smith are both second-year law students who have focused their studies on corporate legal issues. Their collaboration began last fall when Smith, who competed in the Negotiation Competition the previous year at the regional level, asked Alley to team up with her for the University of Oregon’s intraschool competition. Following their success, Alley and Smith worked intensively with their coach, Joshua Gordon, to transform and polish their strategies.
Alley and Smith focused on tailoring their approach to complement one another’s skills. At first, they struggled as they learned not to talk over one another and how to best capitalize on their combined assets. Over time, however, they developed an effective division of labor approach. Alley focuses on taking capacious notes, structuring the negotiation as a whole, and summarizing points as the team progressed. Smith, meanwhile, was able to focus her attention on directly responding to the opposing team and securing the best deal possible for their client, while remaining professional and cooperative.
This July, Alley and Smith will go on to compete in the International Negotiation Competition with teams from around the world. The competition will take place at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California.