March 23, 2023
As part of Osgoode’s Advocacy Week 2023 and on behalf of the Osgoode Mediation Clinic, I had the pleasure of planning the annual Winkler Negotiation Competition, which occurred on February 10, 2023. This competition was exclusively for 1L students and gave Osgoode’s first-year students the chance to exercise and develop their oral advocacy skills in a low-stakes environment. I was especially eager to plan this event, as I benefited greatly from participating in oral advocacy competitions when I was a first-year student at Osgoode. This was my first time planning an oral advocacy competition, and I want to share some tips and best practices for anyone else who hopes to plan and execute a similar event.
Step 1: Promote the Event to Gain Participants
To start, we utilized the existing connection the Osgoode Mediation Clinic has with the Osgoode Advocacy Society to collaborate on promoting the event. We created an event graphic and sign-up form that we then circulated on social media. We posted in Osgoode Facebook groups, on the Osgoode Advocacy Society social media pages, and through posters around the law school. This promotional effort allowed us to attract 15 teams of two to compete in the competition - a great number of teams!
Step 2: Recruit Judges
Next, we had to recruit judges and timekeepers to help us judge the competition. We utilized the Osgoode Advocacy Society to help connect us with upper-year students who had previously succeeded in oral advocacy competitions to volunteer as judges for the competition. Further, we were graciously assisted by other students from the Osgoode Mediation Clinic, who volunteered their time to judge for us. The judges were given a set scoresheet that they used to rank the skills presented by each team throughout the negotiation, such as effectiveness in providing information to the other teams, adaptability, and reasonableness.
Step 3: Write/Select a Fact Pattern
The next step was to select a fact pattern for the competition.
We licensed a fact pattern from The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. We knew we wanted a fact pattern that was a negotiation and involved a multi-party dispute with each party having their own interests to bring to the table. For an oral advocacy competition, it is important to provide the participants with both general and confidential facts. General facts are those that all parties have access to, and confidential facts contain positions and interests that are specific to each party and that should be leveraged throughout the negotiation to create the best result possible.
The facts should be open for each party to introduce their own interests, and also to collaborate with the other parties to create the most just result for everyone involved.
Step 4: Create a Schedule
The next step was to assign each team a role in the negotiation, and divide up the different teams into separate competition rooms. Each room in our competition had three teams representing three different parties. We also assigned judges and timekeepers to each competition room.
Step 5: Ensure Each Participant and Judge Has the Materials they Need for the Competition
I think the biggest key to running a successful oral advocacy competition is staying organized and ensuring that everyone has the proper materials they need with enough time to prepare for the competition.
For the judges, we ensured they were provided with all the general and confidential facts with enough time to familiarize themselves with them prior to the competition. Additionally, we wanted to ensure they had access to the scoresheet early, so they could know what they were to look out for when evaluating the participants.
For the competitors, we made sure they had multiple days to study their confidential facts and prepare their arguments for the competition. For many students, this was their first negotiation competition, so we wanted to make sure they had enough time to familiarize themselves and get comfortable with their facts.
We also made sure everyone had access to the competition schedule prior to the event, so there was as little confusion as possible on the day of the competition!
Step 6: Ensure the Event Runs Smoothly
On the day of the event, it was important for us to be easy to reach and available, in case anyone had any issues accessing the event. We provided all judges and competitors with our contact information to ensure they could access us if needed. Luckily for us, our organizational skills paid off, as everyone accessed the event without a hitch and the event ran smoothly for each group.
Step 7: Determine Top Teams and Thank Participants and Judges
After a successful competition, we used the judges’ scorecards to determine the top teams - even though everyone did exceptionally well.
The most important part of the whole competition was to ensure we thanked all the participants and judges. We were so grateful that everyone volunteered their time to make the competition a success, and we were delighted to see so many people put themselves out there by participating in the competition!