A team of two students from Mitchell Hamline School of Law placed first in the nation this past weekend in the American Bar Association Law Student Division Negotiation Competition, besting a field of 20 schools from around the country.
What made the victory even more noteworthy is that the students, Brian Kennedy and Briana Al Taqatqa, are enrolled in Mitchell Hamline’s first-of-its-kind HYBRID J.D. program, in which students complete half of their coursework on campus and half online. No students in the HYBRID J.D. program had ever entered a student competition before, much less qualified for nationals and won.
“We are so proud of Briana and Brian for this outstanding achievement,” said Mitchell Hamline President and Dean Mark C. Gordon. “Our goal has been to provide Hybrid students the same opportunities available to those in the traditional on-campus program, and this victory shows Hybrid students can not only participate but excel.”
The HYBRID J.D. program, which began in 2015, has been widely recognized as a leading innovation in legal education. Students are enrolled from all over the nation and world. They spend most of the semester wherever they live, completing their coursework online, but come to campus for at least a week each semester for intense, skills-based training.
According to Kennedy, the weeks spent on campus really paid off. “There was significant time spent on face-to-face negotiations and interaction,” he said. “These interactions gave Briana and me a good base to further refine our negotiation skills.”
It also helped that like many members of the HYBRID J.D. program, the two had significant career and life experience to bring to the competition. Kennedy is CEO of a facility management company in El Paso, Texas, and Al Taqatqa, of Bloomington, Minn., is an analyst for an international education management company. The pair used teleconferencing to conduct practice sessions in preparation for the national finals, which were held in Chicago on Feb. 3-4. The final practice session was conducted from three different locations.
Despite having to connect remotely, Kennedy and Al Taqatqa developed exceptional teamwork, said Pat Zitek ’10 (HUSL), one of the team’s coaches. “Whatever the program has done to create a sense of community among the Hybrid students, they have wildly succeeded. The teamwork shown by Brian and Briana provide more evidence to that fact, as did the continual communication and support from their classmates,” said Zitek.
Al Taqatqa and Kennedy give a lot of credit for the victory to Zitek and the other two coaches—Hamline University Professor Ken Fox and Mitchell Hamline Dean of Student Affairs and Student Life Lynn LeMoine ’11 (HUSL)—and to training from Mitchell Hamline’s nationally ranked Dispute Resolution Institute. “There are always facts you don’t know when you start the negotiation,” Al Taqatqa said. “Our ability to adapt was sharpened by the coaches and was a large advantage in the competition.”
The ABA Law Student Division Negotiation Competition consists of four 50-minute negotiation sessions, scored by judges. Law students act as lawyers in simulated negotiations of legal problems. Each simulation is on the same general topic, but the sessions vary with each round and level of competition.
Kennedy and Al Taqatqa finished first in a field of finalists that included teams from the University of North Carolina, University of Montana, and the University of California-Davis. Other universities represented in the competition included Columbia, Creighton, Northern Illinois, Georgia, Maryland, Oregon, Richmond, and Washington and Lee.
“It was daunting to have the top 20 negotiation teams in the country in a single competition,” Kennedy said. “There were no weak teams. Every team was prepared, knowledgeable and well-trained.”
Winners of the national contest are invited to the international negotiation competition, which this year is in late June and early July in Oslo, Norway.
Al Taqatqa said she hopes the team’s experience will encourage other students in the HYBRID J.D. program to participate in these competitions as opportunities become available. “The Dispute Resolution Institute offers many courses in all areas of alternative dispute resolution, and these practical competitions are a great way to take what you have learned and show off your skills on a regional and national stage.”