Steven Sugarman Coaches University at Buffalo Law School Students To Great Success in International Competition

“While that offer is enticing, I don’t think it meets our interests and frankly we don’t feel it meets yours either.”

This past June, teams from 32 schools from around the world gathered in Vienna, Austria, for an international contract negotiation and mediation competition—the Consensual Dispute Resolution Competition Vienna (CDRC).  When the dust settled, after negotiating in over ten hours of mediations and winning in six out of seven sessions, University at Buffalo School of Law’s CJ Cook and Joe Lavoie took second place.  Lavoie and Cook, coached by Professor and Mediator Steve Sugarman, competed as negotiators; they credit their success to their ADR classes at UB, their training with Professor Sugarman, and the intensive workshop at the competition.

The CDRC allows students to learn, explore, practice their dispute resolution skills and receive feedback from the fifty negotiation and mediation professionals from around the world who acted as competition evaluators.  The week began with a selection of training workshops that focused on different aspects of negotiation and mediation.  Cook and Lavoie participated in the “Opening Offer” workshop led by the Michael Mcllwrath, Global Chief Litigation Counsel for GE Oil and Gas.  After this workshop, the competitors enjoyed a private tour of the Vienna based United Nations.  

As for the actual competition, the negotiations were based on an international contract dispute between a wine distributor and a high-end vineyard.  Students were given the general fact-pattern months in advance, but each team (consisting of a client and an attorney) learned what side they will represent and received new confidential facts for that side only one hour before each round.  During that hour, Cook and Lavoie, with Professor Sugarman’s assistance, tested each other on their knowledge of facts and established the upcoming round’s strategy.  In the end, UB’s representatives bested teams from India, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Lebanon.  After a brutal semi-final round, possibly saved only by Cook’s quick-thinking negotiation tactic, the UB team advanced to the finals.  They then lost in the competition championship to the Bulgarian team in a very close 2-1 final decision.  

The UB team traveled a long way to get to Vienna—and they did not get there alone.  While they learned interest-based negotiation strategies, were coached by Steve Sugarman, and competed last spring in both the law school’s and the ABA’s Representation in Mediation Competition, it was the Advocacy Institute of the University at Buffalo School of Law that allowed them to compete.  The Institute, chaired by Professor Chuck Ewing, provided the financial and administrative support to compete in this life-changing competition.  The UB team is grateful for the opportunity to have represented Western NY on an international stage.  They look forward to sharing what they learned in their capacity as President (Cook) and Vice-President (Lavoie) of the law school’s ADR Society.  Cook and Lavoie hope to compete in the International Chamber of Commerce Negotiation Competition in Paris in the Spring of 2017.

* Joe Lavoie and C.J. Cook are 3rd year law students at University at Buffalo School of Law