U of M students compete in Paris

We were proud to represent the University of Manitoba as one of the 44 teams from over 20 countries at the International Chamber of Commerce’s fifth annual International Commercial Mediation Competition in Paris Feb. 6 to 10. 

The competition aimed to provide an opportunity for law students across the globe to meet and practise their mediation advocacy skills.

Recognizing the growing prevalence of mediation, the ICC created this competition to promote the development of mediation advocacy skills in the world’s next generation of lawyers.

Among its many functions, the ICC offers a variety of dispute resolution processes, one of which is mediation — an amicable dispute resolution process where a neutral party facilitates a settlement between disputants. It is confidential and usually voluntary.

The number of mediation cases filed at the ICC doubled in 2009. According to Jean Rozwadowski, the ICC secretary general, “International businesses are increasingly interested in using this flexible, effective, less expensive, efficient, and risk-reducing procedure to resolve their disputes.”

He suggests one of the reasons for this interest is the international business community’s desire for “a solution that takes into account the special circumstances of cross-cultural commercial relationships, in addition to the underlying legal framework.”

The ICC structured the competition to reflect many of the realities of commercial disputes. For example, the desire of parties to maintain their commercial relationships is a common theme in the competition problems.

It also provides one of the main challenges to us as law students whose law school training has concentrated on legal issues and positions. By contrast, the competition forces us to take a broader look at the dispute: what interests are at stake for our client? What needs and concerns will the disputing party bring to the mediation?

While legal interests are incorporated into this analysis, there is the added challenge of finding ways to present the facts and the law in ways that can be productively heard by the opposing side.

The focus of the competition is an effective combination of client representation and collaborative problem-solving skills. Thus, the mediation advocate must advance the client’s interests — legal and non-legal — throughout the process.

Competitors lose points if the advocate sacrifices the client’s interests to be collaborative. On the other hand, points are also lost if the advocate sacrifices the client’s interest in order to seek a competitive advantage. Thus, an appropriate balance must be struck.

We were fortunate to compete against teams from a number of countries, including the United States, Germany, France, and England. All of the teams demonstrated a high level of skill. We were incredibly impressed with the quality of mediation advocacy, especially by the teams where English was not their first language.

It soon became obvious that the core principles of mediation are universal; thus allowing teams from different countries to easily work through the process in an effort to meet their respective interests. The success of the mediation process reaffirmed our belief that mediation is one of the most beneficial forums to resolve disputes.

The competition was an extremely positive experience. We were thrilled to learn that we, the University of Manitoba, had finished the competition with a top 20 ranking. We are grateful for the training and support we have received from our school, coaches, and community.

Further, we are proud of our Canadian colleagues at Osgoode Hall Law School — Lisa Feldstein, Darren Hall, Leanne Shafir, Sheldon Inkol, and Jillian Chuchryk — who ranked third overall.

As University of Manitoba students, we feel well-prepared to enter the growing arena of mediation advocacy.

Alison Cathcart and Katie Hall are third-year University of Manitoba law students.

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