by Peter Jetton
There’s a saying in the law, “If you end up in court, a lot of things have gone wrong.” This in part explains the importance a lawyer’s skills in negotiation, the ability to head off disputes and resolve disagreements before going through the time and expense of a trial. For all the attention trials receive, it’s also important to note that about 90% of civil cases end in settlement.
W&L Law students will put their negotiations skills to the test beginning this week with the start of the Robert J. Grey Negotiations Competition, an annual American Bar Association sponsored competition that emphasizes teamwork and the ability to resolve disputes in a negotiation setting. For this competition, students are organized into teams of two and, working from a fact pattern containing both general (known to both parties) and confidential information (known only to their client), opposing teams work together in a limited time frame in an effort to identify a compromise acceptable to their respective clients.
Last year, one of W&L’s teams advanced all the way to the National Championships, ultimately finishing fourth in a competition where each of the top-four teams received first-place votes. In praising the team’s success, W&L Law Dean Rod Smolla noted that, “There are few legal skills that matter more to clients, and to society, than skills in negotiation. The vast majority of legal matters handled day in and day out involve negotiation of one kind or another, and a large percentage of transactional practice and conflict resolution practice turns on the skills of lawyers in negotiating honorably, honestly, and effectively on behalf of clients.”
The W&L competition is named in honor of Robert J. Grey ’76L, past president of the American Bar Association and a member of the Washington and Lee University Board of Trustees, because of his extensive experience in dispute resolution. Grey was recently named Interim Executive Director of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), an organization of chief legal officers and law firm managing partners dedicated to improving diversity in the legal profession.
Good luck to all the teams participating this year. A video of the final round will be posted when the competition concludes on Sept. 25.