Third-year law students Rachel Vicario (left) and Darian Wilkom are taking part in the International Chamber of Commerce’s 15th annual Commercial Mediation Competition in Paris. The legal mediation skills of two UB law students are being put to an international test this week as they represent the 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 began Feb. 6, teams compete in mock mediation sessions judged by professional mediators.

The issues third-year students Rachel Vicario and Darian Wilkom are facing in Paris are commercial disputes, said UB law alum Steven Sugarman, director of the law school’s Advocacy Institute’s ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Program and the Mediation Clinic, and a partner with Pusatier Sherman Abbott & Sugarman LLP. He is coaching the UB Law team with his spouse, fellow law alum Judith Gerber, chief attorney of the Attorneys for Children Unit of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo.

Sugarman explained that lawyers and law students may get the impression that mediation is more for interpersonal disputes, such as family law, matrimonial and estate matters. “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,” he said.

“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,” he said.

“Students are taught the old proverb that if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every legal problem looks like a nail,” Sugarman noted. “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 […]

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