Adversaries win Willston Contract Competition

BY MIKE WISER

Someday 1Ls Patrick Chung, Aman Kapadia, Jonathan Rotter and Dean John Sauer will have their names on the wall of Langdell Library. It just might not happen anytime soon.

As the winners of the 2002 Williston Contracts Competition, the four won a modest cash prize and the much more august award of immortal celebrity on a plaque in the library. However, since the BSA (who runs the competition) only updates the plaque once they have enough names to fill it up, it can take a decade or more before winners see their names in gold. Still, none of the winners said that they were in competition for the plaque.

This year, both winning teams were drawn from the same set of negotiations. In the mock contract negotiation and drafting competition, Chung and Kapadia (both JD/MBA students) represented a failing airline while Sauer and Rotter represented the flight attendants’ union.

The teams were awarded first place based on the drafting of the final agreement and the substantive outcomes that they managed to negotiate for their side. While the drafting score is the same for both teams, the two sides are theoretically trying to get the best deal for their constituency.

3L Rachel Valente, who chaired the committee that organized the event, said that it was not surprising that two teams negotiating with each other would end up walking away with the first prize. “More balanced agreements that expanded the size of the pie did better than agreements where one side got everything and the other only eked out,” she said.

“I think we were successful because we all realized that working together rather than as adversaries was the best way to proceed. We challenged each other to think of the bargain from the perspective of the other side. I think the other team understood our proposals a lot better when they thought that way, and so did we,” Kapadia told the RECORD.

Professor Roger Fisher, who spoke to all of teams before the competition, said that whether negotiators are in a competition or a civil war, they will both be more successful if they can understand the other sides’ interests.

“It’s like you can’t dance very well unless you both know how to dance. So the fact that the two sides that won the Williston Competition were negotiating opposite each other is great from my point of view, because I believe [if] negotiators learn to work together they will do much better,” he said.

While agreeing that the collaborative effort was important to their success, Rotter emphasized that it was important not to forget the interests of their client. “We were always cognizant of the interests that we represented, which were in conflict with the interests of the other team. By combining a creative approach with a firm grounding in our duty to our client, we were able to both produce an innovative and equitable document that met the needs of both parties,” he said.

While both teams said they subscribed to Fisher’s philosophy, trying to work together did not prevent there being tense moments. “By the end there were times we were just yelling at each other,” Chung said.

“We had to bicker forever before we could agree on anything,” Sauer added.

A six-day contract negotiation may not sound like a lot of fun to most people, but the two teams did manage to find some time to not talk about the airline and its union.

“We were able to wear down the opposing team at our opening meeting by refusing to talk seriously about the competition. These guys were all business before we taught them how to have fun at law school, so it just killed then,” Rotter joked.

For the winners, the competition will live on in its own way – in resumes, someday on the wall of Langdell, and in the way they understand both negotiation and flight attendants.

“These days, whenever I see a flight attendant, I think to myself: ‘I represented a flight attendants’ union in a fictional contract negotiation.’ I haven’t mentioned it to any flight attendants, probably because I feel the fictional part makes the connection seem less conversation-worthy,” Rotter said.

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