Harvard Law School Students Negotiate Time Zones to Win International Competition


First-year Harvard Law School students Noopur Sen, Adam J. Toobin, and Adira E. Levine won first place on Sunday in the Negotiations Challenge 2020, a global competition where teams aim to reach a consensus on a corporate or governmental issue with other parties.

The competition was originally scheduled to take place in Barcelona from April 16 to 18, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, organizers moved the event online, and the five rounds of the competition took place over the span of multiple weeks.

The competitors joined their negotiation rounds via Zoom, competing from different time zones — sometimes until as late as 3 a.m. — and cooperating with students from around the globe.

Levine, who Zoomed into the competition from Chicago, said the virtual platform made reaching a compromise particularly difficult.


“So much of what you rely on in terms of signaling from other parties in the room is obfuscated a bit and your ability to build rapport is changed, if not diminished, by the screen,” Levine said. “But I think it's a good practice to become comfortable with. And certainly for the three of us on this call, I think that it really enhanced our need, and ability, to trust and rely on each other.”

According to Sen, the fact that the competitors were coming from different time zones exacerbated the challenge.

“In our first round, we had five time zones,” Sen said. “We had one person in Japan, one person in India, one person in Pakistan, two people on the East Coast, and one person Chicago time, and it was a negotiation to even figure out what time we could all speak.”

During the competition, teams of three were assigned hypothetical leadership roles in international corporations or city councils, and asked to negotiate a deal to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. The competitors were evaluated on several different criteria, including the result of their negotiations and their communication skills.

Though the three law school students had taken the same negotiations workshop this winter, they had never worked together on a negotiation before. But they said they knew that they wanted to be a team as soon as they heard about the competition.

“We were all in the same class and we observed each other in our negotiations,” Toobin said. “And so when Noopur connected with the Negotiations Challenge, we were just sort of a natural trio to enter.”

Despite the extra challenge that the coronavirus pandemic brought to the competition, Toobin said he appreciated that he still had the opportunity to compete alongside his friends.

“Being able to stay together with some of your closest friends and do this academic thing that we worked really hard on over winter term, and to see it be rewarded is, you know, it's a reminder that the year was really something impressive and the coronavirus didn't ruin everything,” Toobin said.