From EFOI Debra Berman:

In our zeal to teach integrative bargaining, many of us tend to use negotiation role-plays that have multiple items to creatively bargain about. But is that actually doing a disservice to our students?  While I certainly believe it is beneficial to teach our students to think outside of the box and encourage integrative problem solving, in the “real-world,” often times money is the primary topic to be negotiated.  Are we creating false expectations amongst our students?

I bring this up now because 400 students from all over the country just completed our Inter-School Negotiation Practicum which was a month long negotiation based on a pending law suit.  The case documents can be found here.

First, I should start by pointing out that almost all students reported enjoying the exercise and found it to be particularly beneficial to negotiate against someone they didn’t know over a long period of time.

However, a handful of responses I received from the post-negotiation questionnaire, along with an observation from a professor that required her students to participate, indicate that some students were frustrated by the lack of creative options.  Interestingly, however, there were in fact a number of outside-the-box options that students came up with. Yet they expected even more.  Here are several of the comments I am referring to:

I wish the negotiation allowed for a little bit more creativity.

Having more than one thing to negotiate (or two if you include the NDA) would have made this more interesting.

I expected there to be a multitude of contentious issues up for debate.  However, there seemed to really be only one: financial compensation.  When there are more things at stake, you get the opportunity to leverage things against the other party and make more concessions and compromises.  I found this to be less lively.

Sometimes I hear similar comments in my mediation class about one simulation in particular.  I make sure that one of our five full-class, recorded mediations is essentially a money-only negotiation.  Some students report that they feel that simulation is more challenging since there are fewer creative options.

So my question to you is this:   Are our students’ expectations realistic?  Are they going to be blindsided when they enter legal practice?   Should we ensure that they are exposed to a range of different (yet realistic) simulations that don’t necessarily come along with the more sexy, creative options that we tend to see in classes and competitions?   I welcome your thoughts.

Debra Berman
Assistant Professor of Clinical Studies
Director, Frank Evans Center for Conflict Resolution
South Texas College of Law Houston