MISSOULA – In a first for the University of Montana, two teams competing as part of the Blewett School of Law’s American Bar Association Negotiation Team qualified for national competition.
UM captured the top two spots at the Northwest Regional ABA Negotiation Competition, which was hosted virtually Oct. 29-30 by the University of California, Berkeley. The national competition will be held online Feb. 4-5, 2022.
“I was very impressed with the team’s resilience,” said Nicole Siefert, the UM coach. “We lost some team members earlier in the season, got the teams finalized significantly later than usual and the virtual competition was weeks earlier than normal. But our students competed well when it mattered.”
This year’s team included Kiki Huettl (’22) of Cypress, California; Eric Monroe (’23) of Great Falls; Mikayla Schneider (’22) of Missoula; Kelly Lamb (’22) of Bozeman; Bethany Niman (’24) of Santa Barbara, California; and Marisa Owens (’23) of Fresno, California.
They faced off against 20 teams from 10 law schools across the Northwest. Working in pairs, one UM team consisting of Lamb and Schneider and another formed by Niman and Owens took the two top spots, advancing to the national competition in the spring.
Although this is the first time UM had two teams advanced to nationals, over the years the negotiation team has earned numerous accolades. Sixteen teams have proceeded to the quarterfinal round at their respective regional competitions, nine teams have advanced to the National Competition and three teams have placed at the National Competition. The 1997 team ranked third in the nation, and the 2002 team placed second.
In 2016, the team of Frans Andersson and Kirsi Luther finished second at nationals and third at the International Competition in Oslo, Norway – the best showing of any UM School of Law Negotiation Team. It marked the team's second appearance at the International Competition.
Coach Siefert is a 2009 UM law school graduate. She was on the negotiation competition team her second and third years of law school and advanced to the national competition during that time.
To get the 2021 team ready, Siefert recruited the assistance of numerous volunteers, including Klaus Sitte, who lead the team from 1990 until he retired in 2017 and coached Siefert when she was a student.
“Klaus Sitte, always focused on making the negotiation practice rounds interest based and practical, something I adopted this year,” Siefert said. “The law school likewise focuses on practical skills.”
Matt Rossmiller (’20) helped prepare the team for the competition in practice sessions and assisted during the competition. Charlie Cromwell (’09), Katie Mazurek (’08) and Samir Aarab (’15) negotiated against the team for practice. C.J. Johnson (’99) and Malin Johnson (’04), former team coaches, provided valuable pointers, and C.J. stepped up to substitute coach.
“For weeks we worked with our teammates to create strategies, identify what our clients wanted versus what they must have to make an agreement, and where they were able to concede,” said Niman.
The teams also went through the goals of each negotiation beforehand, identifying what the best alternative and worst alternative to a negotiated agreement would be. They then competed against one another with fake facts to practice thinking on their feet and coming to resolutions in a designated timeframe without losing sight of their client’s interests.
“When we made it past rounds one and two, our teammates who did not make it rallied to help us however they could,” Niman said. “They stayed up late and got up super early to help us prep for the final round. They cheered us on and offered genuine support before we competed. All the long hours each person put in made it possible for us to get to finals.”
“The judges of the competition told the competitors that our team presented like senior lawyers at their respective firms and commented that the legal profession would be better served if more lawyers conducted themselves like our team members,” Siefert said.
According to the team members, the value they received from the experience has been multifaceted.
“It gave me an opportunity to meet my peers outside of the classroom setting and develop friendships,” Schneider said. “It also helped me develop the soft skills being a lawyer requires but aren’t often taught in classes. I worked on my active listening. I had to understand where the other side was coming from so that I could make an offer that was beneficial to my client but also served theirs.”
After a short break, the team will begin preparing for next year’s national competition.
For more information about the Blewett School of Law, visit https://www.umt.edu/law. Find more information more about the ABA Negotiation Competition online.
Contact: Andi Armstrong, director of marketing and communications, UM Blewett School of Law, 406-243-6509, email@example.com.