New Negotiation Course for 1Ls Offers Theory, Practice of Critical Skill

During the 2012 Intersession, all first-year law students took a new, required course that adds negotiation theory and practice to the legal reasoning and writing skills that are already part of the 1L curriculum. Washington University is one of the few schools in the nation to provide this required introductory course in Negotiation 

“Negotiation and dispute resolution skills are increasingly needed among today’s legal practitioners,” says Dean Kent Syverud, the Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor. “By making the Negotiation course a requirement for our first-year students, we are furthering our commitment to giving students both the practice and theoretical skills they will need for their careers.”   

The Negotiation Intersession course is based, in part, on an existing upper-level Negotiation course that has been offered in a weekend format by Syverud and Professor Rebecca Hollander-Blumoff, as well as a similar week-long Intersession course for upper-level students previously taught by C.J. Larkin, senior lecturer and administrative director of the Negotiation and Dispute Resolution Program. These courses consistently have very high enrollment and waiting lists, indicating great student demand for this topic. The five sections of the first-year Intersession course were taught by Syverud, Hollander-Blumoff, Larkin, and Professors Karen Tokarz and Ann Shields.    

“Negotiating is a key skill for lawyers in almost every area of practice,” Hollander-Blumoff says. “By teaching students to approach negotiation through careful, critical analysis, we provide them with a skill set that makes them more effective across the board. I am delighted that we are able to introduce all of our first-year students to some of the basic analytical tools of successful negotiation. ” 

In addition to introducing students to negotiation theory and practice, the course is designed to enhance their understanding of professional identity, judgment, and ethics through negotiation simulations. 

“The negotiation sessions were instrumental in bringing the class readings to life, and over the course of the week, we learned a lot about our own negotiating strengths and weaknesses,” says first-year law student Elizabeth Miller. “The immediate feedback from peers and the instructor was invaluable. It gave the course an added dimension and allowed us to experiment with creative approaches to real life negotiation challenges. The negotiation class is a great complement to the 1L curriculum.” 

During the course, students conducted four negotiations, observed videos, and watched some of their classmates’ negotiations. A debriefing session followed each negotiation providing critical commentary and perspective from the instructor and classmates.  

“Law is a highly experiential profession,” says Larkin. “Introducing the students to negotiation skills helps to anchor all that they are learning in their other classes, connects them to the real practice of law, develops their self-confidence, and demonstrates the critical importance of focusing on their professional skills and judgment throughout their law school career.” 

The new Negotiation course also lays the foundation for upper-level courses that have negotiation components, like Pretrial, clinical courses, and advanced negotiation and mediation courses. “In addition to the first-year course, the law school offers a rich array of more than 20 upper-class negotiation and dispute resolution courses,” says Karen Tokarz, the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law and Public Service and director of the Negotiation and Dispute Resolution Program. “Our program recognizes that lawyers must be well versed in negotiation, problem-solving, collaboration, and creative dispute resolution to practice successfully in today’s world.”  

Another bonus of offering the first-year course during Intersession is that students will enter the Negotiation Competition with a firm theoretical grounding and practical experience in negotiation skills. “With this solid foundation in negotiation, students will gain even more from the competition experience,” says Shields, who advises the spring competition. 

First-year student Noah Mullin, who plans to participate in the competition this semester, agrees. “I’m looking forward to testing what we learned in the course against the real-world feedback we get from the judges in the competition,” Mullin says. 

“The Negotiation course was a great experience,” adds Mullin. “I feel better prepared for the upper-level ADR class, and I believe the course will make me a more well-rounded attorney. It gave me a new skill-set that will allow me to more effectively advocate for my clients.”