Willamette Wins ABA Regional Competition

Willamette University College of Law students Robert Zarkos JD'04 and Justin Reiner JD'04 have won the American Bar Association's Regional Competition in Negotiations. It's Willamette's second regional victory.

Twenty schools from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Canada competed on November 8-9 in Spokane, WA. Four teams advanced to the semi-finals – two from Canada, one from the University of Oregon and one from Willamette. Zarkos and Reiner beat out the other three teams and received the highest overall score to become regional champions.

Judging for all rounds was based on flexibility, teamwork and creativity. Three superior court judges and one U.S. District Court judge adjudicated the competition. Regional winners go onto the National Competition in Negotiations in San Antonio, Texas in February.

Zarkos and Reiner, both third-year students at Willamette's College of Law, have competed together six times. Zarkos, whose hometown is Bellevue, Wash., is studying corporate/transactional law and is interested in foreign investment in China by U.S. corporations. Reiner, who is from Gaithersburg, Md., is interested in sports law and hopes to become a sports agent or in-house counsel for a professional sports team. The students, who have been friends since starting at Willamette, credit their different personalities for their strength as a team.

"Rob's ability to change direction during the competition is an irreplaceable asset," says Reiner. "He's easygoing, which tempers my aggressive negotiation style. He's able to steer the negotiation away from an adversarial nature. I bring the ability to get to the bottom line quickly."

Zarkos says feeding off one another's energy makes them competitive. "Unlike many of the teams, we don't script our negotiation because we thrive on fluidity," he says. "We set parameters our client will accept and work within those. When Justin suggests a solution, I know where he is going so I can back him up, suggest an alternative route or re-phrase what he's trying to explain."

Their differences can be seen in how they cope with the pressure of competition. "Justin jumps around like a jack-in-the-box, pacing and letting off nervous energy," says Zarkos. "I tend to sit quietly."

Reiner admits he "bounces around like a four-year-old who ate too many Frosted Flakes. Before competing, I am constantly in a state of unrest. I pace around thinking about the upcoming round, which helps me to relax."

Zarkos says that while Reiner's nervous energy "drives me crazy," the team's intense preparation overcomes all the jitters. "We generally have prepared our strategy so thoroughly that once the competition starts, we are firing on all cylinders. After a minute or so, we forget the nerves and the stress and we don't even realize the judges are present because we're so focused on the negotiation."

The students say the synergy of Reiner's restless energy and Zarkos' calm demeanor enable the team to come up with creative solutions. During the final round, the students negotiated an endorsement contract. They came up with the idea of providing trading cards for the players to hand out at autograph sessions. "This created value for the player in increased exposure to the public and provided us with a way to entice the player to sign the contract without giving away the farm," explains Reiner.

Zarkos agrees that creativity sets their team apart. "Creative solutions are what usually bring the win and we incorporate creative solutions into every negotiation. The judges like to see you thinking outside the box."