All semester I have been preparing my students in our Sports and Entertainment Law class for the ultimate negotiating showdown.
Last week, they delivered brilliantly. They are a gifted crew, a testament to Dean Erwin Chemerinsky's plan to attract the best and brightest to the young School of Law program at UC Irvine.
I created a negotiation problem for them to tackle based on a contract negotiation for the first pick in the 2012 National Football League Draft. They were divided into teams of two to give them the ability to strategically decide how to divide up responsibilities.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version misspelled the following names: Flor Tataje, Jigar Vakil ,Justin Greely and Jenifer Swanson.
One group became agents who were representing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
The other group were general managers who were negotiating on behalf of the Indianapolis Colts.
Each side was presented a set of common facts. Then, each group was given private information unique to them. They each had a long laundry list of items to include in the final contract. And there were points on a scoring sheet to give them some guidance on what to prioritize.
They were asked to agree on a location for the setting. Then, they had to construct a contract which had some years of length, the amount of guaranteed money and in what form, voidable years, options, incentives, full or partial guarantees for injury and skill, off-season training or weight clauses and a cap number.
They were given the problem on Wednesday and told to show up to class Thursday at 3 p.m. with training camp set to open at 8. Local attorneys Chris Koras, Alfredo Arguello and Tom Van Voorst observed the groups and were available for advice.
I have constantly emphasized the need to have internal clarity on priorities and values. Research is a key — a thorough understanding of the economics of an industry, the track record and negotiating history of the other side and the ability to separate out the true agenda of the other negotiator rather than be deterred by surface arguments. This requires asking, probing questions to get into the heart and mind of the other party, understanding their deepest fears and anxieties and greatest hope and aspiration. This leads to a cooperative paradigm in which both sides can be winners.
The key is to avoid locked down confrontation where two parties believe that they have been disrespected and will engage in mutual self-destruction rather than give in.
One negotiation appeared to be doomed from its inception as each side felt the other was stonewalling and in bad faith.
Matty Ochmanek and Caitlin Sanders, representing Luck, were scratching their heads in puzzlement as to why they couldn't find team representatives Matt Plunkett and Nico Anwandter. Tempers flared in a true case of mutual misunderstanding.
Each party has a different interpretation of what is transpiring and starts imagining the direst of scenarios. Ironically each group had the highest score as they squeezed in under the deadline. The agents were sent a 7:30 telegram that said that their client had performance enhancing components in his blood test and the news would break publicly at 7:45.
The GMs received a similarly disturbing communique in which they learned that their two backup quarterbacks had been injured in an auto accident and the news would break at 7:45. This stressed the need to adapt to untoward circumstances and flexibility to move rapidly.
Both sides were clever and creative in discovering loopholes in the system. They have been creative all year. I assigned the task of creating a public service announcement using an athlete and Jenifer Swanson donned a black wig to play Danica Patrick in a breast cancer spot.
Flor Tataje played a doctor in her spot, and Paddy Browne's group created a hilarious spot using David Beckham as a celebrity fighting testicular cancer. The theme was "Balls."
Nima Kamali and Jigar Vakil represented the team and said "How did you survive this grueling process for so many years?"
The agents they negotiated with, Paddy and Justin Greely negotiated the largest bonus by splitting it into two parts. Hye Song Lee who teamed with Stephen Cho as management said "we may not have the best score. We wanted to make the quarterback happy so he felt he was treated well and performed with passion."
I have tried to emphasize the need for steely rationality in the process, bleeding all emotion away and performing like a warrior.
Mohammed Elayan, forced by circumstances to be a lone agent against multiple management types proclaimed, "Thank goodness I remembered that I was negotiating for a client and the subject wasn't me or I would have punched somebody."
Taking things personally leads to frayed feelings and returns us to the formative years of our species, either fighting or running from woolly mammoths. I have taught negotiation and given this problem to thousands of people in different walks of life and one theme runs true — people who feel that the paradigm of cooperation has been violated by the other side will never give in.
That is what happens in divorce, it is the genesis to the history of war.
Hopefully these young budding attorneys will take this skill set and reduce friction and conflict in the world.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun