The Fantastic Story of ILS Pune’s Malek and Pranay’s Journey into California, USA for the International Negotiation Competition 2013

In conversation with the national representatives at the world rounds of The International Negotiation Competition, 2013 – Malek-ul-Ashtar Shipchandler and Pranay Jain, both students of ILS, Pune.

The interview was done by our amazing college manager, Mohona Thakur! Go Rhea!

The International Negotiation Competition (INC) is a platform for law students in which a team (of two law students), representing a party/client, negotiate either an international transaction or the resolution of an international dispute with an opposing team.

The international rounds of this competition were hosted by Chapman University, School of Law, in Orange County, California, USA. The national qualifier of this competition is hosted annually by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore.

Q: To begin with, could you acquaint us with the concept of negotiations, what goes on inside the closed doors of a conference room while negotiating? 

The entire negotiation simulation starts with the participants being furnished with a general set of facts, based on which teams are asked to prepare a “strategy paper” (the equivalent of a written submission in a moot court competition).

Prior to the starting of the competition, teams are furnished with “confidential information” which usually contains detailed instructions from your client; it basically sets the limits of what you need to get and what you can give.

The negotiation between two teams goes on for about 30 minutes followed by a 5 minute session with the judges who question you aspects relating to your strategy, conduct and background of law used during the course of negotiation.

Malek: Unlike a moot court which is adversarial and argumentative by nature, a negotiation, generally, is conciliatory.

Perhaps the most important distinction between the two is that while both activities require a base of law, the prime ingredients of a negotiation simulation is constituted by strategy, tact, diplomacy and ultimately economics (as against arguments, case-laws and bare-act sections in a moot court).

As negotiators, one has to realize that he/she may be at fault in the given case, but what is important is to do damage control or get the best deal for your client, as the fact pattern of the case may require.

Pranay: It is essential for the team members to make sure that while speaking simultaneously, unlike in a moot court competition, one does not state any contradictory propositions or arguments as compared to your team mate. Also, you do not cut each other while putting forth your views.

Q: Do you think that the performance majorly depends on time management and the kind of confidential information you are provided with?

Pranay: It depends on the time management more than it depends on the confidential information that you are provided with as you have pre-determined strategies and proposals (so do the other teams).

Since, negotiations are meant to reach a consensus, one should know which strategy to follow and which strategy to let go in order to reach a solution in the time allotted.

Q: How did you go about your preparations for the national rounds?

Pranay: We were completely unaware of the format of this competition, so, YouTube videos were one of our primary sources.

However, as we both hail from business families, the commercial instinct helped us boost our preparations. We also received a lot of inputs on legal negotiations from Adv. Tejas Adiga, alumnus of our college.

Q: How were the national rounds? What were the genres of the negotiations conducted in the competition?

Pranay: The national rounds were divided into two stages – the preliminary and the finals. We negotiated a problem based on Intellectual Property Rights for the preliminary round and a family dispute for the finals.

Q: Who were you up against? How long did you have to prepare?

Pranay: We faced the host & organising team – NLSIU, Bangalore in the preliminary rounds. Top two teams qualified for the finals on the basis of marks.

We managed a win against NLU Delhi, in the finals (don’t know how!). Soon after the announcement of results, I was in a shock.

As far as preparations are concerned, we had more than a week to prepare for the prelims, but on the contrary, we only had an hour to prepare for the finals.

international negotiation competiion

In pic: Pranay (front), Malek (back)

Q: You had approximately 6 months to prepare for the international rounds including all the formalities, documentation, and finances. How did you go about it?

Pranay: Chapman University School of Law (the hosts of the international rounds) via its Professor in-charge of the event, Ms. Nancy Schultz were extremely prompt in providing us assistance in the form of official invitation letters for the purposes of visa application.

Chapman also had arrangements with two hotels in the vicinity for providing accommodation to the teams at discounted tariffs.

Malek: With respect to financing, we are thankful to Mrs. Joshi (Principal, ILS Law College), Mr. Wasudeo Gade (Vice-Chancellor, University of Pune) and Dr. Gaikwad (Director, BCUD, University of Pune) for providing us with substantial support to fund our travel expenses.

We’re also proud and happy to share that Dr. Shashi Tharoor (his reply to our letter was “Gladly! Send me your address”) and Dr. Kiran Bedi sent us token-symbolic cheques as a form of encouragement.

When contacted for Lawctopus, Dr. Shashi Tharoor (Minister of State for Human Resource Development) said: “It’s heartening to see students of our nation academically competing at the international level. My support to Malek is symbolic of an endeavour to encourage our Indian youth, who are our greatest national asset, to pursue their aspirations. Our human resources will determine whether we can make the 21st century our own.

Q: Were you provided with any formal training for the international rounds?

Malek: As a matter of fact, we were perhaps the only team at the competition who went without a Coach and any formal “training” per se. That said, we were constantly supported and guided by Dr. Deepa Paturkar (Assistant Professor and Advocacy Activities In-charge, ILS Law College).

We also received valuable inputs on transnational negotiations from Mr. Wakhariya (Founding Partner, Wakhariya & Wakhariya) as well as Mr. Vikram Munje (Group General Counsel & Sr. Vice-President, Bharat Forge Industries) who tutored us on practical negotiation strategies.

Pranay: The organisers had sent us a document containing feedbacks of past competitors to give us a basic idea on the cultural background of all competing teams to help us have an idea of how to deal with the respective teams. This was helpful as we were informed about who we would be up against in the rounds.

Q: What do you think the judges look for in a negotiation challenge?

Malek: I feel judges appreciate creative and out-of-the-box solutions to a dispute which is being discussed at the negotiation table.

Moreover, they appreciate solutions and ideas which are practical i.e. actually workable and not something that just looks fancy on paper.

Judges also take into consideration as to whether the fine line between fair-play and use of pressurising tactics (which includes conjuring facts on the spot and taking into consideration certain assumptions) is maintained.

Pranay: It is very subjective as it depends on the back ground which the judge belongs from. However, as Malek rightly pointed out, practical solutions and the willingness of the teams to settle the dispute is considered by all judges, irrespective of their backgrounds.

There is no blanket rule of negotiating. Every style (aggressive, restrained, shrewd, etc) is unique by itself and one cannot determine what would be appreciated by the judges.

Having said that, the rationale behind your solutions is essential for you to grab that extra point as you have the opportunity to justify your strategy after the negotiation is done with.

Q: Could you please emphasize on the practical aspects of negotiation competitions?

Malek: Looking back, I feel negotiation is a lot about listening carefully to the other side.

As mentioned earlier, each team is supplied with certain confidential information; it’s helpful to explore the other side’s confidential information to identify their expectations and consequently gauge as to what they can offer.

Setting an agenda early during the session is a fantastic idea to establish control over the other side – this is something we picked up from the USA team and adopted it in our subsequent rounds.

It’s also important to modulate your voice, tone of speaking and be extremely polite when you’re cutting off your opponent mid-conversation – phrases like “we agree, however…” or “to add on to what you’re proposing..” seemed to work for us.

Pranay: Everyone negotiates all throughout the day, be it with the shopkeepers or your parents.

We realised the difficulties we faced when we negotiated in the national and international rounds without any guidance from a coach.

Having understood the difference between day to day life and legal negotiation, the idea to conduct an intra college negotiation was conceived.

Q: So, the idea to begin with an intra college negotiation challenge came up after your stint at Chapman University?

Malek: No, the idea of establishing a negotiation competition struck me after the national rounds at NLSIU, Bangalore and the first edition of the competition was organized before our trip to Chapman.

The entire concept of a negotiation simulation is still at a nascent stage and needs to be made popular. Having this thought in mind and based on our experiences at the national rounds, we thought it would be a good idea to establish a similar competition in college so that our friends could also benefit out of what we experienced.

The first edition of the competition saw 32 teams participating – this is indicative of the fact that students of law realize the importance of varied advocacy activities as these are simulations which get you relatively close to what it’s actually like in real practice. I’m glad Pranay has taken up the mantle of organizing the competition now in a bigger and better way.

Pranay: We have tried our best to introduce various forms of negotiations like a tri-party negotiation which is not something you get to experience on a daily basis. Also, we try to get the experts from the field of law that the problem deals with to judge the competition and provide feedbacks.

Q: Would you like to share any tips/ideas/suggestions for the future participants for such fast emerging competitions?

Malek: Most negotiation simulation premises are based on a particular industry. Our premise at INC was based on aviation contracts and more specially the catering of wines on-board flights.

During the course of our research, we went to the extent of finding out whether the taste of wine changes at 30,000 feet into the air due to our taste-buds becoming numb!

Having industry-specific knowledge helps in understanding and analyzing as to whether the solutions being discussed at the table would in actuality be serving the best interests of your client.

Pranay: Because of the cross-cultural element at international competitions where people from different countries having different accents come together, it becomes important for one to be extremely slow and clear on diction while communicating.

Having to repeat sentences not only wastes time but also gets one agitated – we know from experience as this happened in one of the rounds.

Q: On the last note, how would you sum up the experience in totality?

Malek: What started as an unexpected victory at the national rounds, culminated into a very satisfying trip in terms of the educative value of the competition, receiving useful insights into my own performance by the judges, forging ever-lasting friendships with participants from different countries, having my parents fly down to California to watch me participate  and… eating some very expensive pizza on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles!

Pranay: The joy and pride of representing ones country cannot be described in words. And that is exactly how I feel. On a lighter note, the cultural exchange that one experiences teaches you a lot more than a classroom lesson. Also, the pizza story is incomplete with the free unlimited desserts given to us!

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