By Varshini Viswanath (student ambassador)
The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law has maintained its outstanding record for negotiations in student competitions, helping secure three top awards for Team Australia at the prestigious Intercollegiate Negotiation Competition (INC) in Japan.
Alongside two teammates from the University of Sydney, ANU Law students Siena Hopkinson, Jack O’Brien, Tony Xu, Sasha Daniel, Dominic Harvey-Taylor and Lorenzo McMiken led Team Australia to overall runners-up in the competition, the Squire Patton Boggs Prize for the Best Negotiation in English, and the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) Prize for Best Teamwork.
The INC uses a single set of facts about an international commercial transaction as its problem question. Students must grapple with a variety of legal issues that arise, from contractual issues to jurisdictional ones.
Due to COVID-19, the competition was held entirely online for its second consecutive time. Nevertheless, this year’s competition – the 20th since it was founded – attracted law students from around the world comprising 24 teams. The National University of Singapore secured overall first place, narrowly edging Team Australia by fewer than two points.
Invaluable international experience
Sasha's decision to take part in the INC derived from her positive experience at the Asia-Pacific Commercial Mediation Competition. She was motivated to improve her oral advocacy skills and knowledge of alternative dispute resolution.
“However, I was immediately drawn to the opportunity to participate in a culture-based negotiation and learn more about substantive cross-border legal matters.”
Since international commercial transactions and out-of-court negotiations are ubiquitous, the INC presents an unparalleled opportunity to develop the skills of identifying legal issues and communicating with students across the Asia-Pacific.
“I was personally dealing with jurisdictional issues, such as whether a tribunal had the power to hear the case in the first place, a lot of contractual issues, ambiguities in long-term agreements, instances of alleged force majeure, unclear terms of trade for sale of goods and issues of contractual termination, interim measures and more,” Sasha added.
Collaborative and creative
Under the coaching of Professor Veronica Taylor, an international lawyer and socio-legal scholar at the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance, Team Australia formed in August and honed their skills over weekly seminars based on negotiation, arbitration and international commercial legal principles.
“We did a number of practice moots, for both the negotiation and arbitration components and were assisted by Camilla Pondel and Kieran Pender (ANU and INC alumnus), Stephen Ke (INC alumnus) and Dr Luke Nottage (University of Sydney),” Siena said.
While the impact of lockdowns and travel bans hindered the team’s ability to get together in person, it didn’t affect their ability to collaborate effectively as evidenced by their teamwork prize.
The competition’s virtual format also resulted in high levels of creativity and engagement, from persuasive speaking to memorable introductions as each team sought to make their mark.
“During the virtual open ceremony, there were actually some very quirky and entertaining introduction videos made by other participating universities. We dragged ourselves as bubbles along the screen to speak with other participants as one might do at a cocktail party,” Siena said.
Benefits for students
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the INC is its emphasis on cross-cultural negotiation skills in international commercial transactions.
For Team Australia’s students, the experience equipped them with intercultural communication skills to complement their legal advocacy and knowledge.
“In Australia, we tend to use a lot of colloquial language which often gets lost in translation. When you’re participating in a competition such as the INC, many students are speaking English as a second language. There is a huge emphasis placed on clear and simple business language,” said Siena.
The competition has led Sasha to rethink her own negotiation style and why there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the art of persuasive speaking.
“I approach negotiation and advocacy in an entirely different way. By learning how to move away from position bargaining and embracing interest-based negotiations, I saw a change in both the flow of negotiation and the overall outcome,” Sasha said.
Tony predicts that this opportunity will contribute to their careers professionally by providing a preview of sorts into the detailed process of drafting written submissions and the comprehensive preparation that goes into a commercial negotiation.
“Overall, the competition left a lasting impression on us all that we had participated in something far more substantial than just another law course – and had achieved something we could all be proud of,” he said.