The International Negotiation Competition (INC) was established in the USA in 1998. That first competition involved four teams. This year, sixteen teams represented countries from across the globe, including Russia, India and Japan. The ethos of the competition has always been educational. The organisers formulate three realistic scenarios for the teams to negotiate over three rounds – either an international contract or dispute resolution.
This year’s INC took place from 27th June to 1st July, hosted by the University of Copenhagen. Northern Ireland was represented by Karen McGrath and Julie Ellison, who qualified for the international finals by competing with fellow bar trainees at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies earlier in the year. Our coach was Mary Traynor, lecturer at the Institute, who has been involved in the INC for several years. Mary assisted our preparation in Belfast before the competition. Our friends from the bar class, Leanne Coey and Angela Matthews, kindly acted as our opponents in these practice sessions. They all helped enormously in getting us ready for the INC.
We arrived in Copenhagen on Monday 27th June after an early flight from Dublin, just in time for the Ambiguity Session. This is designed to ensure uniform interpretation of the negotiation scenarios, providing competitors with the opportunity to seek explanation or clarification of any issue. We were glad of this but even more so of the refreshments provided at the Welcome Reception shortly after. We met all the competitors and coaches and had our introduction to the INC 2011. Back at our hotel we made the final preparations for the first round.
Round One took place on Tuesday morning. We were facing New Zealand which has a very good track record in the INC. Our panel of three judges were a mixture of legal and non-legal experienced negotiators. Our first task was to present the judges with our plan for the session, giving them an insight into our intended tactics and strategy. Our first round turned out to be a valuable lesson in the complexity and unpredictability of the INC scenarios. We ended up with a much better deal than our client had expected to get and even then, we learned during the judge’s feedback, we could have gotten more.
Round Two saw us negotiate a severance agreement for our CEO client with South Korea. This was an entirely different experience than Round One, not least because of the cultural differences. In our pre-negotiation session with the judges we told them our intention was to be collaborative and only competitive when necessary. Their feedback to us at the end was that we had actually been highly competitive throughout, as had our opponents. This helped us fully grasp the concept of collaborative negotiations and fed directly into our third round strategy. We also realised that the judges in the INC often prefer the collaborative approach.
Round Three was against Puerto Rico and was really enjoyable. We were trying to resolve a dispute over a fictional Middle-Eastern government defaulting on our client’s bonds investment. As a result of our second round feedback, we sought to ensure neither side took a position until we had each investigated the other’s motivations. This worked very well and allowed us to refrain from a more competitive approach until late in the session. The result was excellent for our client and our attempts at collaboration meant we got placed top in the group of eight teams that took part that morning.
While we did not get placed overall in the INC we certainly learned enough to make our participation hugely worthwhile and our scores improved significantly each round. We established connections with our peers and their coaches from all around the world. We thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the week – the competition, the tourist experience and the socialising. The University of Copenhagen were flawless hosts. The Faculty of Law sent us on a boat tour of the city, a walking tour of the free town of Christiania and a meal in a great restaurant. The awards presentation was held on the final night in the most beautiful of venues. The historical building, replete with stunning original murals and tapestries was the perfect setting for the impressive banquet and our celebrations on that last night. Singapore was named overall winners and we all were presented with commemorative medals and certificates of participation. Anne Fenton MBE, Director of the Institute, addressed the assembled competitors on next year’s INC which is to be held in Belfast.
Julie and I are very much looking forward to helping Mrs Fenton with hosting the INC next year. We hope our efforts will match those of the University of Copenhagen. We appreciate how fortunate we are to have been given the opportunity to become involved with the INC. We thank the Bar Council for funding our trip and Mary Traynor and Anne Fenton for their encouragement and guidance. Finally, we would recommend the competition to future students and we sincerely hope Northern Ireland maintains its representation at the INC for as long as it continues.