UNB Law wins Canadian National Negotiation Competition | NEXUS Magazine | Alumni | Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law

UNB Law wins Canadian National Negotiation Competition

Third-year law students Isaac Corey (JD’24) and Abigail Lander (JD’24) were crowned first place at the 2024 Canadian National Negotiation Competition (CNNC) hosted by the Business Law Platform, McGill Faculty of Law, in collaboration with McGill’s Sustainable Growth Initiative (SGI). The pair competed with teams from law schools across Canada to secure their spot at the International Negotiation Competition later this summer.

“I was stunned,” said Isaac. "Even though we were well prepared by our coaches and each round felt like a success, the competition was stiff, and the judges were difficult to read. It took a couple of weeks for the reality of our success to settle in. I'm very grateful for all the effort that others put into our development, and I attribute our success to strong coaching, intense study, and plenty of practice.”

Competition focused on alternative dispute resolution

Founded in 2017, the CNNC brings together students from Canadian law schools to showcase their negotiation, communication, and lawyering skills in realistic simulations of two-party and multi-party negotiation scenarios. For the last two years, the CNNC has had both an English-speaking stream and a French-speaking stream, making it a truly national competition. Each university is invited to enter two teams in each language stream.

The CNNC is structured in three rounds, with teams of two students representing clients seeking to secure multi-issue agreements. The first two rounds involve two teams; the third round is a multi-party negotiation, where three or four teams negotiate a single agreement. Each team is given a set of general facts about the scenario as well as a set of confidential facts that contain more details on their “client’s" context and priorities. This year, all three rounds related to the potential development of a “next-generation” manufacturing plant to make batteries for electric vehicles. The clients comprised the battery manufacturer, a chartered bank, a coalition of government actors, and a land trust. Issues for negotiation included regulatory approvals, tax breaks and other financial incentives, job creation, and plant siting. These highly topical issues reflected SGI’s interest in hosting the competition.

“We really focused on what the other party would be looking for and any potential points of tension or conflict,” said Abigail. “At the competition, we asked a lot of questions, using a strategy called investigative negotiation, to discover the other party’s priorities and interests. We were well-prepared but certainly had to think on our feet once at the negotiation table to get a favourable outcome. I find this aspect of unpredictability to be the most interesting and engaging part.”

The competition is unique; unlike a trial or appellate style moot, where a more adversarial approach can be effective, the CNNC focuses on interest-based negotiation, which requires a conversational style in which each side is trying to build a negotiating relationship while at the same time protecting and advancing its own side’s information and interests.

“What makes this interesting from a competitive standpoint is that the twin goals of building a relationship and securing a beneficial agreement often conflict,” said Isaac. “A beneficial agreement pleases the client, but a strained relationship undermines the stability of that agreement and decreases the likelihood of the agreement being implemented.”

In this area, the second UNB Law team, comprised of second-year students Paige Chisholm and Peter Janson, shone. They won the award for Best Communication for Relationship-Building. For Paige, the multi-party negotiation was the most challenging aspect of the competition, and building trust was the key to their success.

“At times, you are working just to get a word in, and to ensure that you aren’t being teamed up on by the other parties. We knew that overly tense, positional negotiations were significantly less productive than a collegial approach. Our focus was on working together against the problem at hand, rather than working against each other.”

Paige sees great value in honing the art of negotiation, adding, “while many law students will be engaged in trials or appellate level courtroom scenarios, every single student will be involved in negotiations—often, and in different areas of their lives. Being aware of how to conduct a productive negotiation is a widely used, but under-practiced skill.”

The team co-coaches Carolyn Suley (JD’19) and Renna Eliakis (JD’20) were elated but in no way surprised by the students’ success at the CNNC. “Isaac, Abigail, Peter and Paige are all extraordinary team players and showed unwavering support for each other at the competition,” said Carolyn. “While they mastered the theory and skills of interest-based negotiation through their training, the student’s work ethic and team chemistry set them apart and drove their ultimate achievements at the CNNC. It was such a privilege and a pleasure for us to coach such exceptional students.”

Next stop, Brazil

Winners of the CNNC English-speaking stream and French-speaking stream are both eligible to compete at the International Negotiation Competition (INC). As winners of the CNNC English-speaking stream, Abigail and Isaac will be one of two teams representing Canada at the 2024 INC that will take place July 10 to 14, 2024, in the city of Manaus, Brazil. Additionally, Paige and Peter will be travelling to Brazil as alternates for Team Canada. All of the students are anxious to bring the lessons learned from the Canadian competition to South America.

“We are reviewing our feedback forms from the judges to improve upon any areas where we consistently scored low,” said Abigail. “We are also researching cultural norms for some of the other countries participating in the competition so that we can consider cultural differences as we strategize for Brazil.”

For Isaac, the most significant lesson he will bring to the international competition is the importance of adaptability.

“Each round of negotiation felt different,” said Isaac. “New facts, new faces, and different negotiation styles were presented each time we sat down at the table and success is only possible if you adapt. Everyone has their preferred approach, but the teams I met who were most effective were those that spoke with me rather than at me.”

Carolyn will also be travelling to Brazil as coach and is looking forward to seeing the student’s further challenge themselves at the INC, adding, “the INC will be such a unique chance for the students to continue to develop their negotiation skills at an international level, competing against colleagues from around the world. The team has discussed the magnitude of the opportunity to not only represent Canada, but UNB, on an international stage and look forward to making everyone proud.” 

The Faculty of Law congratulates Abigail, Isaac, Paige, and Peter on their impressive performances at the CNNC, and we thank their dedicated coaches, Renna and Carolyn. Please join us in wishing Abigail and Isaac good luck in Brazil!