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Law Team for Canadian National Negotiation Competition

Collaboration, humility, teamwork and respect garner ‘Spirit of Negotiation’ award for Manitoba law team

Robson Hall Teams Excel at Sixth Annual Canadian National Negotiation Competition

March 11, 2022 — 

Over March 4th, 5th and 6th, two University of Manitoba Faculty of Law teams from Robson Hall competed at the sixth annual Canadian National Negotiation Competition (CNNC).  Against a talented field of the best law student negotiators from across Canada, the two teams of Alexander Barnes and Alexandra Broggy, Allison Kilgour and Anna Siemens put in extremely strong showings.  I was involved in assisting with the administration of the competition, and I heard praise from many people, including judges and organizers, about their performances.

The pair of Kilgour and Siemens even received the “Spirit of Negotiation” award, which is peer-nominated and goes to the team that best illustrates the values of collaboration, humility, teamwork and respect.  According to Ms. Kilgour, “Winning the Spirit of the Negotiation meant a lot as it showed that our competitors truly thought that we embodied the collegiality and cooperation that it takes to be great negotiators.”

Robson Hall teams have a history with this award— Mel LaBossiere and Chandra Oliver received it the first year it was offered in 2019, and Reanna Blair and Menal Al Fekih received an honourable mention last year.

Each of the student competitors had an opportunity to reflect about their experience after the competition concluded. Broggy stated, “Competing in the CNNC was one of the most challenging yet rewarding opportunities I have experienced during my time in law school. I am humbled and honoured to have been selected to represent Robson Hall in a competition against top negotiators from law schools across Canada.”

Barnes focused on the skill-building aspects of the competition, explaining, “Preparing for and competing in the CNNC was a fantastic experience that helped us develop practical skills that will continue to serve us long after leaving law school. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to represent Manitoba at the national level.”

Siemens saw the CNNC as an opportunity to build on and compliment the advocacy skills she learned last year competing in an appellate moot.  She explained, “Competing in the CNNC was a great experience for me personally, and definitely advanced my legal skills in the art of effective negotiation. After competing in an appellate moot in 2L, participating in this competition was the best way to round out my practical learning experiences here at Robson Hall.”

She added that competing in three rounds of negotiation helped her confidence grow and learn throughout the weekend. “By having such a fun experience working with my colleagues and our two coaches, the hours spent in preparing our strategy were very enjoyable, and I look forward to applying the skills I gained through this experience in the future!”

Kilgour agreed, stating, “Despite taking place virtually, I feel that I gained so much knowledge and skill through competing with some of the best across the country. It was a wonderful experience and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Our teams were expertly coached by Andrew Torbiak, a lawyer practising estates and trusts with Tradition Law, and Heather Wadsworth, a lawyer who practises family law at Mitousis Lemieux Howard Law Corporation.  Shimon Leibl, a family law and estate planning lawyer with Mona Jodoin Law Corporation, also assisted with coaching the team in the early stages. Andrew, Heather, and Shimon are all Robson Hall alumni who themselves have had great success competing in negotiation competitions, including winning (in Shimon’s case) and placing fifth (in Andrew’s and Heather’s case) at the International Negotiation Competition in 2015. All of the students were quick to thank the coaches, with Kilgour saying, “Our coaches were wonderful and gave so much of themselves to help us succeed.”

The coaches were filled with praise for the students: “On behalf of Heather and myself,” said Torbiak, “I’d like to thank the students for the effort and passion they put into preparing for this competition. Anna, Allison, Alexander and Alexandra – fondly referred to as the A-Squad – were a pleasure to coach. Heather and I were impressed with how professional the students were throughout the two-month preparation for the competition. We are proud of the development the students showed in their negotiation skills. Robson Hall was represented well once more in the CNNC.”

Wadsworth added, “We are very proud of Alexandra, Alexander, Allison, and Anna for their stellar performance this weekend and for their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm as we prepared for the competition. They are an especially talented group of students. It was an honour to coach them.”

A BIT MORE ABOUT THE CNNC …

Six years ago, the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law hosted the inaugural competition at Robson Hall, which has been run annually since then.  The size of the competition has been steadily growing, both in terms of number of teams participating and number of law schools represented.  This year, twenty teams competed from law schools across Canada.

The 2022 competition involved three rounds of negotiation taking place over three days. Teams of two law students, each representing opposing parties to a fictitious dispute or transaction, met in an attempt to reach a resolution or deal, with each team possessing confidential details about client circumstances and settlement preferences.  The first two rounds were bi-party, with the last round involving a more complex three-party negotiation.  All of the negotiating took place under the scrutiny of judges, who scored each team’s negotiation skills.  At the end of each session, the judges provided detailed feedback to each team about what they did well, and potential areas for improvement. 

Previous iterations of the competition have generally occurred in person, with one law school hosting the event. Past hosts have been Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Osgoode.  The COVID-19 pandemic prevented an in-person format for the competition last year and this one, but the Professors involved in organizing past CNNCs were determined to prevent students from missing out on this great opportunity to develop their negotiation skills, given how important those skills are to success in one’s legal career.

ADAPTING ONLINE

For the second year in a row, the competition was conducted using videoconferencing software, and a number of innovations were introduced in order to adapt.

This year, the competition was generously hosted by the University of Ottawa, with input and assistance from several Professors at other law schools, including me at the University of Manitoba. The University of Ottawa did a great job hosting, and I wish to expressly acknowledge the core team at the University of Ottawa of Professor Ellen Zweibel, Professor Marina Pavlović, and Amanda Zevnik for doing a wonderful job of organizing and administering the competition. A number of potential challenges had to be overcome, such as: “How do you enable teams to take a caucus?”; “How can teams share written material?”; and “What happens if a competitor or judge has a technological glitch in the middle of the time-limited negotiation?”

Fortunately, we were all able to resolve these issues and prevent any significant problems from arising during the competition. This was greatly facilitated by a group of diligent, tech-savvy student volunteers from across the country hosting each Zoom negotiation. A number of Robson Hall students volunteered, and all did a great job managing the sessions.  All-in-all, we were able to use the rich technological features of Zoom (such as Breakout Rooms) to facilitate the negotiations, something the competitors will have to use in their future practices, given the fact that negotiations by video-conferencing will continue to be a common fact-of-life even after the pandemic lifts.

Some aspects of running a competition on-line were actually easier and less expensive.  Judges and volunteers for the competition could be sourced from across Canada, rather than exclusively from the area near a host school, and we had a number of great practitioners from Manitoba who judged this year.  The on-line nature also removed the time and expense of travelling for the competitors and coaches.  So, despite the fact that such competitions are definitely better run in-person, there were still some silver linings.

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