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St. John's 1Ls Learn the Fundamentals of Negotiation Hands On

Thursday, January 26, 2017

“I never thought that a two-credit, one-week class would rock me to my core,” Tina Kassangana '19 says, reflecting on the 1L Lawyering course that was held during the January intersession. “I was able to identify personal strengths and weaknesses via negotiation role-play. Lawyering instilled a confidence in me that renewed my commitment to my legal education. I could not think of a better way to begin my second semester of law school.”

Developed by Professor Elayne E. Greenberg, assistant dean for dispute resolution programs, professor of legal practice, and director of the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution, Lawyering focuses on negotiation skills and the companion skills of interviewing clients and drafting agreements—core competencies for lawyers. 

The course, which is required for all 1Ls, is part of a suite of intersession offerings designed by the Law School faculty in response to the challenges and opportunities of the new legal marketplace. “As an innovator in legal education, St. John’s understands that lawyers don’t just need to know substantive law,” Professor Greenberg says. “They need to be able to apply that substantive law using negotiation skills. This dual skillset makes St. John’s first-year students more competitive applicants for desirable legal positions.”

The full-time and adjunct faculty members who teach Lawyering bring a range of expertise and practical insight to the classroom.  Each year, they collaborate to refine the course curriculum to meet the students’ current needs. In addition to Professor Greenberg, this year’s faculty included:

With their professor’s guidance, the students applied the legal knowledge and analytical reasoning skills they developed during their first semester at St. John’s Law to real-world situations. “The goal,” Professor Greenberg says, “is to give every student a basic grounding in the theory and practice behind fundamental skills that lawyers use in all areas of legal practice The course also prepares students for the more advanced skills training available through the Law School’s clinics, externships, co-curricular activities, and other experiential offerings.

Professor Goldweber, St. John’s director of clinical legal education and director of the Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, appreciates the foundation that the Lawyering course provides. “Students who participate in any one of our 10 in-house and partner clinics use interviewing, counseling, and negotiation skills in advocating for New Yorkers in need,” she says. “The Lawyering course not only helps our 1Ls develop these essential lawyering skills, it gives them the confidence to use them appropriately in a variety of real-world contexts, including at summer jobs and in law school clinics.”

Students give the Lawyering course high praise for compelling them to re-think how they want to practice law. “The class brought me to the realization that effective negotiation takes teamwork across party lines,” says Brendan Gibson '19. “Only genuine attempts to better your situation along with your opposing party's situation help bridge the gap between dispute and resolution.” Camila Sosa '19 says that the course changed her perspective on effective lawyering as well. “I always had the impression that the tough, angry, stubborn negotiator won negotiations, but I learned it is the skilled negotiator who wins,” she shares. “Working alongside my classmates created a comfortable atmosphere where I practiced, made mistakes, and learned from myself and my peers.”

The students also appreciate the opportunity to experience, and to develop, a wide range of negotiation approaches and styles. “I learned how to identify interests of negotiating parties and to create agreements that are a win for both sides instead of one-sided victories,” says Kelly Hutchins '19. “I practiced how to listen to my client's story actively by using different body postures and how to build a good attorney-client relationship,” Emily Zhou '19 adds. The students came away from the week with a clear sense of accomplishment. “I saw my own personal growth through creating value, using objective criteria, and focusing on my client’s interests,” says Elliot Shine '19. “Likewise, the growth of the class as a whole was evident.”

In addition to learning in the classroom, the students assembled for talks given by alumni Richard F. Hans '93, Michelle Johnson '05, Ashley Kloepfer '11, and EJ Thorsen '08. Each discussed how negotiation skills are essential to their law practice. “The speakers motivated me to stay focused and understand the goals of the class,” says Jane Shin '19. “By the end of the week, I began to create an initial set of skills needed to become a successful lawyer and advocate.”