Their hard-won skills in legal mediation will be put to an international test next month when a two-person student team will represent UB School of Law at a major competition in Paris.
The International Chamber of Commerce’s 15th annual commercial mediation competition involves students from 66 universities worldwide. During the weeklong event, which begins Feb. 6, teams compete in mock mediation sessions judged by professional mediators.
Two area attorneys and longtime friends, Lindy Korn and Josephine Greco ’81, are underwriting the students’ costs for the trip.
“Mediation has been a part of my practice for 30 years,” says Korn, who was one of the originators of the Alternative Dispute Resolution program in Western New York’s federal courts and teaches a bridge course at the law school on sexual harassment mediation.
“Dispute research is critical to a successful career as a lawyer and probably for the courts as well. Even during litigation, it’s a different way of talking and thinking. I want to make sure that the next generation of lawyers have this skill in whatever way they can develop it.
“The fact that I could be part of this competition in any way gives me great pleasure.”
Greco, a partner with Greco Trapp, PLLC in Buffalo, is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council. She said her support for the UB School of Law team comes on the heels of a presentation to the DAC about advancements in the school’s Advocacy Institute and her firm’s continued support of the New York City Program on Finance and Law.
“We believe that a program like the ADR program, as well as opportunities for students to have practical experience - those are essential for our students,” Greco says. “Mediation is so important in our practice, especially in Federal Court and our employment relations practice, and it’s far more prevalent now than when I was in law school. Participating in this kind of training is a skill that will enhance a law student’s educational experience.”
UB School of Law’s team of two third-year students, Rachel Vicario ’20 and Darian Wilkom ’20 – who last year reached the quarterfinals of a similar international mediation competition in Vienna – are making final preparations for the Paris event.
The competition problems are commercial disputes, says Steven Sugarman ’85, director of the law school’s Advocacy Institute’s ADR Program and the Mediation Clinic and a partner with Pusatier Sherman Abbott & Sugarman LLP in Kenmore, N.Y. He is coaching the UB School of Law team with his spouse, Judith Gerber ’84, chief attorney of the Attorneys for Children Unit of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo.
“Sometimes lawyers and law students get the impression that mediation is more for interpersonal disputes, such as family law, matrimonial and estate matters,” Sugarman says. “It’s definitely used for those things very well, but in business cases and commercial matters it’s being used domestically and internationally more and more to avoid that long journey through the courts.
“It’s about the lawyer as problem solver, an interest-based negotiation rather than a positional base. The attorney advocate is looking at the underlying needs and concerns of each party, trying to dissect those and seeing if they can come up with a settlement that is better and more certain for their client than the probable litigated result.
“Students are taught the old proverb that if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every legal problem looks like a nail. These are different skills than trial skills: effective communication, mutual understanding and empathy, creativity, and trying to convert the adversarial advocate across the table into a collaborative problem solver, even in the face of high emotions. These skills are transferable to any subject area of the law.”
Vicario and Wilkom are veterans of several mediation competitions, and have long worked as a team.
The Paris competition problems involve eight separate cases, Vicario says, and “the legal doctrines that apply are very broad. You get less into the nitty-gritty of the law and more into what’s going on and why are we doing this.
“At the end of the day, mediation is mediation,” she says. “Whether it’s a corporation or a divorcing couple, people want to be heard and taken seriously. And the emotions are similar – people invest themselves in their companies and have an emotional attachment to their work.”
Wilkom says that beyond the intense experience of the competition itself, such events open up a world of contacts and ideas. “In Vienna we met so many different people and we made great connections,” she says – “other students, future professionals, professionals who are already established mediators and attorneys. I’m very excited to make more of those connections.”
Both students are grateful for the donor support that makes their upcoming trip possible. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Vicario says. “Their contribution was so unbelievably generous.”