First, I hope everybody had a fantastic festive season despite the obvious circumstances. In this post I will share my experience with commercial negotiation competitions and explain why I would wholeheartedly recommend them.
What are they?
Commercial negotiation competitions are essentially what they say on the tin – you are a fictitious lawyer negotiating for a firm on a commercial matter. The matters involved can range from negotiating an acquisition of a company, to litigation, to the construction of a new building. At the start of a round, or even before the round has begun, you will be given an information sheet which contains a list of things that you must achieve during your negotiation (eg, reaching an agreement for construction of a new office), things that are wanted to be achieved (eg, a budget of £X) and things that the instructing firm is not too bothered about (eg, time frame). The party sitting across from you will also receive a similar document. There is then a third document which contains general information available to both parties. Your job is to negotiate a deal that gives your client as many of the things they want, while also giving the other party what they want – remember, you are trying to create a win-win situation here. If you strike too harsh a bargain, you might be seen as hard to work with and will potentially lose future clients.
In my first year at university I competed in a negotiation competition that was organised by my university’s law society. When I originally saw it advertised I was intrigued as I had never heard of it before.
At the competition’s first meeting there was a showcase round, which helped me to better understand what the competition involved, as well as allowing me to see first-hand what I would end up doing. At this event, I met and networked with the previous competition winners, who were very enthusiastic that I enter. So, after finding a partner, that was exactly what I did.
In the first round of the competition, we were acting as lawyers for a prospective tenant in a shopping centre. Our task was to negotiate with the shopping centre owners on the details of our contract – or so we thought… It turned out that we had been preparing our negotiation strategy for the wrong side! Needless to say, things did not look good as only a minute in our mistake had surfaced and we had to frantically scramble an answer together. Despite pulling off, what the convener called, a “decent comeback in the circumstances”, we were unable to progress to the next round. The other side did not progress either, for a reason I previously mentioned – they were too harsh on us. As we were reeling, the other side forced us into accepting circumstances that were extremely unfavourable, which ultimately cost them.
Remember, unlike a traditional competition where there is one winner and one loser, a set of negotiations is not like that. Instead, a negotiation is trying to produce a win-win scenario.
Although my success with these competitions has been rather limited, I still benefited from taking part. It taught me negotiation skills, which involve developing commercial communication skills and the ability to work within a small team. In addition, the further you get into the competition, the more skills you develop, such as public speaking, commercial research and commercial awareness. I would certainly recommend entering a competition like this if you have the chance. Placing well and beating other applicants develops skills that are important to becoming a lawyer and is a genuine way to show your employability. The finals at my university were judged by an associate from Allen & Overy, as they had sponsored the competition, and the winning pair had the chance to meet and liaise with the firm representative.
Ultimately, I would encourage people to take part in commercial negotiation competitions as they develop skills that are important to a career in law, while also being an enjoyable thing to do. Even if you do not wish to become a lawyer, being a skilled negotiator is widely useful, not only to other commercial careers, but also to your daily life (eg, through your negotiation with others).