Friday, 3 November 2017

Let the Games Begin: How Negotiation Competitions prepared me for my First Trial

I am happy to report that I argued my first case in the Small Claims Court and lived to tell the tale! I was representing the plaintiff in a hotly contested matter against an experienced opponent. The deputy judge reserved judgement so while we don’t yet know whether the court ruled in favour of my client, I felt well-prepared for the trial and can’t wait for my next opportunity to appear in court.

I was representing the plaintiff in a hotly contested matter against an experienced opponent.

I encourage any law students reading this. Get as much advocacy practice you can while you’re still a student. In my third year of law school, I spent a great deal of time preparing for and participating in national and international negotiation competitions. Along with a partner, I negotiated in front of practicing lawyers, businesspeople, and academics who had volunteered to judge the competitions. The judges were eager to provide feedback which encouraged participants to become better negotiators and advocates. Of course, these are mock negotiations without real clients and real money on the line. As a result, these competitions are an effective place to learn and practice advocacy skills before finding yourself in a real negotiation or, in my case, a real trial. It’s still early in the school year – seek out these opportunities to practice.

Not yet convinced? Think these extra-curricular competitions will eat up too much of your time during 3LOL? I’ve prepared some closing submissions on the matter.

The fact that I had participated in negotiation competitions helped me calm my pre-appearance nerves. I was able to remind myself that I had been in situations before where talented professionals were judging my performance.

My negotiation competition experience also allowed me to practice my public speaking skills. I knew that I would be able to express myself clearly and confidently in front of my client, the opposition, and the deputy judge.

Further, these competitions taught me to think on my feet. Particularly during my cross-examinations of defence witnesses and during my closing arguments, I was required to listen carefully and react to answers from witnesses and to questions from the bench. I was glad to have practiced these skills previously.

Although I happened to practice advocacy skills in the context of negotiation competitions, you can acquire and practise these skills in a variety of settings. For instance, many of my fellow articling students participated in moot court competitions and will attest to the fact that they benefitted greatly from the opportunity to practice appellate advocacy, public speaking, and other skills in moot court. Many of us also took trial advocacy to prepare for our summer and articling terms at McCague Borlack.

Make the most of your law school experience – seek out opportunities to practice advocacy skills before you begin articling; I’m very glad that I did.

Emily K.