Debra Berman’s Fantastic Offer to Host an Inter-School Negotiation Exercise

FFOI Debra Berman offers to organize a fabulous practical DR Skills exercise that goes beyond the classroom and normal competitions.  She writes:

In recent times of declining class sizes, shrinking budgets, and extra focus on the bar exam, practical ADR skills training may not receive the attention it deserves.  Students may leave law school without ever practicing a single negotiation or engaging in some form of legal communication with another law student or lawyer.  Currently, students primarily learn ADR skills by engaging in face-to-face simulations during a narrow time frame of a one or two hour class with students they know (or are even friends with) or during extracurricular competitions.  But how often do lawyers sit down across the table from one another?  How often do they have such an artificially tight time frame? How often are they negotiating with their friends?  In reality, lawyers do the majority of their negotiations via email or on the phone over a period of time with clients and opposing counsel they may not necessarily know.  Yet we ask our students to engage in negotiation skills training that does not necessarily reflect reality.  Therefore, I would like to gauge your interest in signing on to participate in an Inter-School Negotiation Practicum.

The idea behind the pilot project is simple. Your students would sign up to negotiate a fact pattern (either transactional or pre-litigation) with a student from another school and they would have complete control over how to conduct it – via email, phone, zoom, etc. They would have one month to complete it.  Students would not be graded and there is no “winning or losing” like in the competitions.  It is simply an opportunity for students to practice a real life legal skill outside the classroom in a non-threatening and non-judgmental manner.  We would then do a debrief with our own students at the end.

One question that has arisen is whether students could only participate if they have taken a negotiation class or have some other training.  However, there is a cohort of students that do not have room in their schedules and/or are not selected for teams.  I envision this as an opportunity that would remain open to all students (with 30+ credits) and it would be up to each participating institution whether/how to include an educational component in advance.  At the end of the day, I see real practical value for students engaging with complete strangers in an environment that more closely aligns with practice.   If there is support, I am eager to have a target start date of October 1st and students would have through October 31st to complete the negotiation.  If you are interested, all I need from you is to market it to your students and have them sign up on a web page that I will create.  I am happy to take care of the rest.  Please feel free to email me to express interest.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Debra Berman
Assistant Professor of Clinical Studies
Director, Frank Evans Center for Conflict Resolution
South Texas College of Law Houston

6 thoughts on “Debra Berman’s Fantastic Offer to Host an Inter-School Negotiation Exercise”

  1. I recently completed this inter-school negotiation practicum, and as a student, I found it very beneficial. My ADR class routinely engages in dispute resolution simulations; however, this inter-school practicum provided me the opportunity to go outside my comfort zone by negotiating with someone who I did not previously know. For me, it was the closest experience I have had to what negotiations would be like after graduation. I was able to utilize some negotiation strategies discussed in class, and I particularly liked the requirements for using different means of communication. Specifically, it was easier to draft an email to my partner containing my negotiation points; however, when challenged with the need to discuss the negotiation over the phone and on video conference, it forced me to consider what points I was not willing to concede and how to negotiate this in a professional manner. Overall, I found the experience very beneficial and it was fun to connect with another law student elsewhere in the country.

  2. Eileen — Thank you for your interest in the project. Assuming everything goes well in the fall, I plan to continue this in the spring semester as well. I am currently gathering names of professors who would like to be on the notification list for the spring. I will certainly go ahead and add you to it. And yes, it will likely take place during the month of March.

  3. Hello Debra,
    I salute this idea and approach and wonder if it is possible to offer it to my students at George Washington University Law School? They take my introductory course in ADR in the Spring and we begin with negotiations, then mediation and arbitration and a variety of hybrid processes. Thus, for Spring term 2020, taught from January to early April, 2020, I wonder if this is a possibility, perhaps during the month of March?
    Many thanks in advance. Eileen Barkas Hoffman

  4. This negotiation appears to lack a key component of measurement, to inform you, and the students on what they learned. I have used negotiations based on cases unfolding in real time, so students can research their positions online and compare results with real outcomes. However, before students are given the assignment, I ask them to evaluate themselves on a series of negotiation skills on a Likert scale, i.e. the pre-test, but they don’t keep a copy of their responses. After the negotiation I ask them to rate their skills again and then I compare the group’s responses and individual’s responses. Students are surprised to see improvement in their confidence level, and in what specific areas. I also include additional reflective questions on whether they considered the negotiation to be a “success,” what they contributed, or failed to contribute, plus who they think contributed the most to the perceived “success” of the negotiation.

    1. Thank you for your response, Margaret. It will be up to the professors at each individual institution how to structure the feedback at the end. I am simply providing the platform.

      1. I applaud your creative initiative, Debra. Certainly, it’s important for students to reflect on their experiences so that they can learn the most from their simulations, as Margaret suggests. Your idea contemplates some feedback process and faculty have a lot of experience in structuring these processes in many different ways. You propose an experiment and perhaps faculty at various schools will develop new ways to arrange for feedback, perhaps through listserv discussions.

        You correctly note that, although there are benefits to simulations conducted in courses and competitions, there also are significant limitations, which your idea would address.

        I hope that a lot of colleagues will join you in this experiment to improve learning for more students – and hopefully have a good time doing so. This should not take a lot of faculty time — just setting up and running a debriefing session as I understand it.

        Debra will do this only if there is enough interest to make it worthwhile. If you are interested, please let her know asap.

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