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VIDEO: Anthony Estrada JD'11, Lauren Askeland JD'11 and Professor Sukhsimranjit Singh discuss the Dispute Resolution Certificate and the negotiation competition. (2:58)

Lauren Askeland JD'11Lauren Askeland JD'11

Anthony Estrada JD'11Anthony Estrada JD'11

Sukhsimranjit Singh, associate director of Willamette’s Center for Dispute ResolutionSukhsimranjit Singh, associate director of Willamette’s Center for Dispute Resolution

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Law students take negotiation skills to the next level at national competition

Willamette University College of Law students Lauren Askeland and Anthony Estrada first enrolled in the Dispute Resolution Certificate program to gain practical experience that would help them in their future careers.

Little did they know that three years later, they would become one of the top negotiation teams in the nation.

The students, who both graduate in May, recently beat out 22 teams from law schools across the country to take the second place prize at the American Bar Association’s national negotiation competition.

“It was exciting to compete at that level,” Askeland says. “One of the biggest things I learned is that there are a million different ways to negotiate and be successful. It taught me problem-solving skills, and how to handle working with different attorneys from different backgrounds.”

This was the second time in the past three years that Willamette has sent a negotiation team to nationals — although winning competitions is not the main objective, says Sukhsimranjit Singh, associate director of Willamette’s Center for Dispute Resolution and the students’ coach.

“We’re teaching them skills in how to be an effective, collaborative lawyer who can help society at large,” Singh says. “This competition gives the students an opportunity to practice those skills.”

Learning to Negotiate

The Certificate in Dispute Resolution provides students with a foundation in mediation and negotiation, giving them an in-depth look at problem-solving, deal-making and decision theory.

Students seeking the certificate can also participate in an intra-school negotiation competition. Two teams of two, each representing a client in a fictional legal situation, spend 50 minutes negotiating a deal with each other, looking for something that is acceptable to both parties while still protecting the interests of their client.

“One of the most important things they need is flexibility,” Singh says. “When teams negotiate across the table, they usually have a plan when they begin. But they need flexibility in deviating from that plan if the negotiation goes differently than expected.

“We also look for teamwork — how well these two students work with each other and with the other side — as well as their level of preparation.”

Students who do well in the Willamette competition can go on to compete at the regional level, and if they win there, they advance to nationals.

Askeland and Estrada took on several tough teams at nationals to make it to the final round. They ended up losing to the first-place team by only two points.

“I think Lauren and I have done so well together because our styles are different, but complement each other at the same time,” Estrada says. “I tend to be a little more assertive. I am the one delivering offers and giving bottom-line stances. Lauren is more of a relationship-builder. She listens well and reassures the other side that they are being heard.”

Practical Skills for the Future

Both students said their experiences in the certificate program and the competitions will benefit them when they become lawyers.

“I would recommend the program to anyone who is even remotely interested in negotiation or dispute resolution — which should be most anybody, because it permeates every aspect of law,” Estrada said.

Askeland plans to go into criminal defense or prosecution, where a large percentage of cases are settled outside of court through negotiation.

“By being able to take classes in dispute resolution and learn the doctrine behind it, and then also have the practical competition experience along with one-on-one coaching, I’ve gotten a unique experience at Willamette,” she says. “The people in this program really care about your success.”