Negotiating law school was fun, fulfilling

BY ELAINE LIN

Recently, I was present at a meeting between clinical students for the Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program and a client representing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The representative assumed that we had plenty of opportunity to work in teams at the law school, since that’s what most of us will have to do after we graduate. The law students and faculty in the room chuckled at how far off her assumption was from reality. 

What are the skills we need after we leave law school? Surely, a nuanced understanding of constitutional law isn’t all there is to legal practice. Perhaps this is my own bias stemming from how I’ve spent my time here, but I would add team work, project development, project management and client development to that non-exhaustive list. And in Harvard Negotiators, I found all that. 

Harvard Negotiators (HN) is the student oganization here at the law school focused on negotiation and dispute resolution.  Through HN, I was able to take negotiation theory from the classroom into the real world.  HN members and I have created value for clients by providing them substantive work in negotiation and dispute resolution.  And as students, we have benefitted from the opportunity to engage the real world, develop actual work experience in a low-risk setting, engage our passions and bring ideas to reality.

To give you an idea of what all that means, in the past year HN has…

 

·       Developed negotiation curriculum for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a Houston-based non-profit that provides educational and mentorship programs for enterprising incarcerees.

·       Developed difficult conversations curriculum for at-risk youths affiliated with FAIR Fund, an international NGO working in anti-human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention.

·       Created best practices manual for renegotiating child support agreements for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

·       Trained outside organizations in negotiation skills, including Firemen and the Town Administrator of Nantucket, elected officials of the Mississippi NAACP, and graduate students at the Harvard School of Public Health.

·       Put our skills to test at the American Bar Association Negotiation Competition, St. John’s Dispute Resolution Triathlon, and the International Negotiation Challenge in Leipzig, Germany.

·       Simulated multi-party bankruptcy negotiation with other law students in light of the economic crisis

Our work last fall helped incarcerated individuals in the Houston prison system learn how to better navigate their business and personal lives after leaving custody, we helped youths in the DC Metro area learn how to have difficult life-altering conversations, and hopefully helped a few of the many children in the middle of the country who are currently experiencing hardship due to the economic downturn.  Firemen and other union workers in Nantucket will hopefully be able to secure better contracts, and at a minimum, the animosity in their relationship with the Town has decreased. And the list goes on.

It’s not to say that our organization has all the answers or are experts at all of this, but in the process of finding projects to work on, managing our work load, and delivering concrete results, I know that I’ve developed some expertise – and just learned a ton.  

I love the fact that HN is organic and interest-driven. If you have an idea or an interest, the mentality is – let’s try to make something happen. Given that negotiation touches every aspect of our lives and is implicated in almost any field, it seems like everybody has an interest that overlaps with what we do. But HN is not about riding on someone else’s coattails or waiting for someone else to act.  It is all about figuring out what you want to do and how to do it.  My experience has taught me that if you have an idea, ask questions, and ask for help, you can actually make things happe
n.

With the countdown to the end of law school being only weeks now instead of months, I confess that I am extremely jealous of those who get to continue on here. There are incredible resources here at the HLS, and it’s been an incredibly luxury to develop myself professionally while impacting the world positively.

My fellow classmates and I all come from such different backgrounds and bring an amazing variety of experiences and passions to law school.  And as far as I can tell, the point of law school wasn’t to take those differences and stuff them into nice little conformist boxes, but to bring those differences to the table to enhance the experience – yours, those around you, and the community beyond.

If I could say anything to those not yet staring the cap & gown in the face – and maybe because I’m a graduating 3L you might afford me the opportunity – it would be to take the opportunity while here to learn, not just from books and cases, but about life and the world. I know I just said it several sentences ago, but there are incredible resources here. Being a student at HLS and taking part in an organization gives you the platform from which to launch new ideas. Find your own analogue to the Negotiators, or feel free to join ours. It has certainly made my experience here at the law school all the more worthwhile.



Comments