When Brynn Morse (’23) and William D. Merriweather III (’23) began the American Bar Association Law Student Division’s Negotiation Competition in November 2022, their initial goal was to make it to regional finals, and no further. Brynn said, “I told Will that I had another competition scheduled that would conflict with nationals. So, we’re not allowed to get that far!” When asked at what point it became clear to Will that they were doing well and might lay waste to Brynn’s careful plan, he said, “I knew by day two.”
These advocacy and trial skills competitions—which host teams from a range of law schools and are adjudicated by actual judges and practicing attorneys—give students the opportunity to sharpen skills that will prove valuable during their legal careers.
At the regional competition at Olde Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, they faced tough competition from 25 teams from different law schools to prevail and advance to Nationals. In total, 177 teams from over 100 law schools competed, with only 24 teams making it to the ABA National Finals in Chicago in February 2023. Of this field, eight teams would advance to the second day to compete in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final round.
The team was elated to advance to the quarterfinals, but found themselves in the unenviable position of being the eighth seed. This meant they would have to face off against the number one seed in order to advance to the semifinals. Will said, “The number one seed went into the round feeling a little overconfident against us, knowing they’d beaten us earlier. We used the judge’s notes from that earlier round to prepare for them, and we won. And then we just kept winning.”
Professor Robert Coulthard, the team’s primary Coach, said that he could see early on that the team had the potential to go far. “Really, it comes down to dynamics. Our team worked very well together. They’re both so accomplished!”
Finally, after two excruciating days of competition, Brynn and Will lost in a split four-to-three decision in the final round to California Western School of Law. They thought they’d come to the end of the road until Professor Coulthard received an unexpected invitation from the International Negotiation Competition Committee to send our team to the International Competition in Rome, Italy after California Western declined the invitation.
Thrilled and honored by the opportunity, the team, Coach, and Professor Louisa Gibbs, who coached the team in Rome, prepared to represent the United States in Rome at the International Negotiation Competition (INC). The Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta, a historic and prestigious university set in the heart of Rome near the Vatican City, hosted an amazing competition.
According to Professor Gibbs, “The INC is the oldest and most renowned competition focusing on international legal negotiation for law students from all over the world.” Professor Gibbs explains. “Each country holds competitions to determine the winning team for the nation, and then those winning teams are invited to compete at the international competition.” This year, 20 teams competed from countries including New Zealand, Rwanda, India, and Brazil.
In addition to competing in front of a judging panel against international teams, the competitors also get to participate in negotiation masterclasses taught by international experts. Brynn and Will competed against teams from Wales, Norway, and the Netherlands. Professor Gibbs shares, with obvious pride, “With each round and day, Will and Brynn negotiated zealously and cooperatively with the other teams to ultimately reach agreements that satisfied their clients’ interests.”
Brynn and Will recommend that all students take advantage of the opportunity to participate in advocacy and skills competitions during law school. Brynn shared, “We were exposed to many legal situations and clients we would not have encountered otherwise.” Will agreed and offered this advice to students: “You meet all kinds of people from different backgrounds. And you connect with professors you might not otherwise get to know.” He adds, “Why not just do things—even if you don’t know whether you’ll be good at them? Just try.”
Does this sound like the kind of experience you would like to have in law school? You can learn more about our advocacy and skills competitions here.