A Winning Combination: BLSA Negotiation Team and Gordon Feinblatt

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The 2022 Black Law Students Association (BLSA) Negotiation Team continued to showcase their outstanding negotiation skills this year. Taylor Nettleford (2L), Kennedy Hagens (1L), Quazanae Dasher (1L), and Dakota Foster (1L) competed in the 2022 Nelson Mandela International Negotiations Competition, with Najmah James (3L) and Sean Russel (1L) serving as alternates. Foster, who chose Maryland Carey Law in part, for its strong dispute resolution program, joined the team to put the negotiation and advocacy skills he learned in the classroom into practice. The former college football player draws upon his love of competition as fuel when preparing for competitions in intense mooting sessions. His partner, Dasher, described her first negotiation competition experience as a chance to hone her public speaking and strategic thinking skills.

The BLSA Negotiation Team was founded in 2016 by Alexandria Montanio ’16, then co-president of the Maryland Carey Law’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Team, and Yvette Pappoe ‘17, then president BLSA. Six years later, the BLSA Negotiation Team continues to thrive, with strong support and mentorship from Montanio and her current firm, Gordon Feinblatt LLC. James Handley ’17 of Gordon Feinblatt LLC assisted in coaching the team before transferring the role to colleague and former ADR team member Sudipta Das ’20.

Montanio, now Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Gordon Feinblatt, says she and her firm support the BLSA Negotiation Team because “it is important to have a marketable skill like dispute resolution training, regardless of the type of career students ultimately pursue, but it is equally important to build a network of lawyers who are able to provide support as the students navigate law school and beyond. We’re proud to be able to provide that to Maryland Carey Law’s BLSA students.”BLSA is Maryland Carey Law’s chapter of the National Black Law Student Association, established in 1968 with the mission of articulating and promoting the needs and goals of Black law students while effectuating change in the legal community. The members of the BLSA Negotiation Team expressed deep appreciation for the commitment and mentorship of the coaches. “They were patient, gave great feedback, they trained us to expect anything during competition. The went above and beyond. They brought in a great group of guest speakers that demonstrated various negotiation styles and perspectives” described Dakota. “They were more than coaches, they were mentors outside of the competition,” added James. “They connected us with attorneys in our interest areas, gave us tours of the firm, as students, we had access to people and resources that really helped level the playing field.”

The members of the BLSA Negotiation Team praised the generous support of Gordan Feinblatt LLC. “They provided us with practice space and supplies, their attorneys gave us feedback and shared words of support. They cheered us on. They were dedicated to seeing that we prepared; their support felt good,” explained Hagens. Nettleford recalled meeting the firm’s managing partner: “he was just in the hallway. He saw us, came up and introduced himself. That’s not something I expected to happen as a law student.” 

With the competition behind them, the team members are exploring next steps. Hagens recently tried out and earned a spot on the Maryland Carey Law ADR Team. She intends to use her advocacy and negotiation skills in her role as a University Student Government Association Senator. Other members of the team are considering options including future competitions, running for BLSA leadership, and enrolling in the Mediation Clinic. James, who will graduate this year having fulfilled the Dispute Resolution Track, looks forward to applying her ADR skills at a New York based employment law firm. Thinking about the road ahead and the role her participation on the BLSA Negotiation team has played, she states, “we negotiate every day. Be it salary, with colleagues, on behalf of our clients or even with our families, being able to effectively listen and communicate while keeping the big picture in perspective is vital. I am so glad I had this experience.”

The coaches of the BLSA Negotiation Team have a broader mentorship agenda. Montanio shared: “While barriers often remain for many people of color who want to join or remain in the legal profession, equipping students with these tools is one of the ways we are helping to support BLSA students to find their own professional voice and begin building their careers. Seeing these students succeed, not just in competition, but as they become lawyers is one of my greatest joys and I’m grateful to my colleagues for supporting this initiative.”