Teams from seven Canadian universities squared off in what was billed as Canada’s first national mediation competition last week.
The idea, say organizers, was to provide a platform for law students to practise a skill that’s becoming increasingly important in the field.
“Initially, it was out of a necessity to have law students engage in something that is practically meaningful for them,” says Kileen Dagg Centurione, the competition director. “Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are being used more frequently and being viewed as one of the best ways to assist clients.”
The competition, at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, culminated in the finals Nov. 22 with two teams from the University of Ottawa vying for the top prize, the Winkler Cup, after beating out students from the University of British Columbia, University of Victoria, Osgoode Hall Law School, University of Saskatchewan, Queen’s, and Dalhousie.
Besides the prize, named after Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler, the winners received a trip to Paris for the 2009 International Chamber of Commerce Mediation Advocacy Competition.
To win, the teams engaged in a mock mediation session in which C.K. (played by Peter Quansah), backed by his lawyer AJ Scott (played by Lisa Culbert), was trying to resolve the collapse of his partnership in a bakery business with Paul (played by André Schutten).
“This dream has actually become a nightmare, and I think today I need some answers,” said C.K., who recounted how he returned from a business trip to find that Paul had allowed someone else to use the premises to make bagels. During that time, health inspectors found rat droppings, which put the operation at risk of closure and sent the company’s reputation into the gutter.
As a result, the pair was trying to find a way to see if they could salvage the partnership. But what C.K. didn’t reveal was that he was in a dire financial position himself and that, ideally, he would simply sell out at least part of his share of the business to Paul. Instead, Paul and his lawyer Sandy (played by Izabel Czuzoj-Shulman) made the strategic decision to disclose later in the mediation session that the person he let on the premises was his brother-in-law. With that revelation, he was able to gain the upper hand by neutralizing C.K.’s concerns about a lack of trust between them.
In the end, the pair decided to stay in business while finding ways to fix the communication problems both sides said was marring the relationship. The judges, Toronto mediator Hilary Linton and Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Louise Otis, selected Schutten and Czuzoj-Shulman as the winners.
For her part, Culbert argues she and teammate Quansah struggled with what she says was a weaker position. “We really didn’t want to go to litigation because of C.K.’s financial position,” she says.
Quansah, too, admits the pair could have done things differently. “I chalk it up as a learning experience,” he says.
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