City Law School LPC student Joshua Schuermann was on the victorious team in the recent Young Legal Minds contest.
Competitions have always attracted and fascinated me – whether it’s sports, moots, or Mario Party: you name it, I’m in. That’s part of the reason I want to become a lawyer: I need a career in which challenges and competition are a part of everyday life. With that in mind, applying to represent The City Law School in a commercial negotiation competition was a no-brainer for me, and the fact that this competition involved BPP and the University of Law was a twist which attracted me even more.
My experience in the Parisian media production industry meant I was already aware how important solid negotiating abilities are in any industry, and as an aspiring commercial solicitor this is obviously a skill I need to develop and sharpen for my future career, which made the competition all the more attractive to me.
Following an internal application round, I was delighted to learn I had made the team, and soon all five of us were sent copies of the scenario the negotiation would be set in. It involved a venture capitalist wishing to invest in an up-and-coming technology company founded and run by two friends: one acting as finance director, the other as CEO and majority shareholder. On the day of the competition, each team drew which party they would represent. We then spent the rest of the day in our teams preparing for the one-hour negotiation to take place in front of a panel of judges in the evening.
Our preparation time was punctuated with visits by our mentors, who drew on their own personal and professional experience to provide us with invaluable insight and advice. This helped us tremendously throughout the day, and during the actual negotiation. For example, I’m better with words than I am with numbers, so I found it very helpful to be able to ask our mentors if we were on the right track with our planned offers and counter-offers, and whether these numbers were before or after tax etc.
After a full day of preparation in the offices of FreshMinds, it was crunch time, so we headed over to the boardroom of Mishcon de Reya – what an intimidating place that turned out to be! The judges and mentors were joined by around 20 other people in the audience, and there were cameras filming the entire event – knowing your mistakes might end up on Youtube always tends to take the pressure up a notch.
After a few brief introductions, we got down to business. At first we all feared that a negotiation involving three teams of five might become a messy free-for-all in which everyone speaks at the same time, but each team had one person who acted as a de facto spokesperson, which made discussions much easier. We also managed to stick to our gameplan, which was to make sure each of us had an area of expertise in the negotiation – so, if another team asked about the specifics regarding taxation or interest rates, I could confidently deflect the question to my team mate Stephen McNeill who had the best command of all the relevant figures on our team. (Sharon Kits, Hammad Naveed and Rekha Makwana were equally great team mates, all making key contributions to the effort of the side).
As is often the case, the pressure we felt coming into Mishcon’s boardroom was relieved as soon as the negotiation began – in the heat of the moment, there is no time for nerves. However, the minute the negotiation concluded and the judges left to deliberate, the stress was back; had we done enough? The seconds of unbearable tension before Mishcon de Reya partner Mark Keenan called the winning team felt like the immediate aftermath of a boxing fight, everyone waiting to hear the judges’ scorecards.
Needless to say, hearing our names called out gave us the great satisfaction you get from winning, but it also came as a certain relief: we all felt we had put in a solid performance, and there was not much more we could have done on the day. Victory made the evening’s networking drinks all the sweeter, and the cherry on the cake is the one-week work placement each member of our team is getting with one of the mentors or judges of the competition.
The entire experience has been a very enjoyable, interesting and satisfying one, and one I am very fortunate to have shared with my team. The broader picture however is that this competition was just a small step towards our goal of securing a training contract, though the networking opportunity the event provided, along with the work placement we won definitely make us all feel closer to that goal.