by Emilee Clark, AUT

The annual Herbert Smith Freehills International Negotiation Competition happens across two days in New Delhi, India. As my partner Alex Turcu and I said goodbye to our family in New Zealand and set off for the competition, there was certainly excitement in the air.

As we touched down on New Delhi soil after several hours of travel, chaos adorned the streets. Trundling our suitcases through the airport, melting like we had just worked out, we realise it’s midnight and still 30 degrees.

Neither Alex nor I had been to India before, we didn’t know any Hindi, and to be quite honest we didn’t know how to navigate out of the airport to meet our duly assigned “buddy”, Yoshita. After asking around for free Wi-Fi, I took the plunge and turned on my data to find out where Yoshita was waiting for us. After a cool $63 worth of data as my messages flowed in, we spotted her; a sweet, petite, charming first year student at the National Law University (NLU).

Yoshita was all sorted with an Uber en route. Tata vehicles riddle the streets of India and are no larger than a Toyota Echo – the difference being that they store their gas tank in the boot. Our Uber turned up and sure enough it was a Tata with a gas tank for a boot. My immediate thought was that we must call a more apt vehicle to carry our luggage and us. Not so, at least not in India. The driver squished our luggage and us in, and the rest went on the roof – and I am not talking about a Capsule or roof racks. Our luggage went smack-bang onto the roof – without question – and was secured with rope.

Skip ahead to the next day, our taxi ride to south New Delhi was an experience in itself. Imagine a four-lane highway with clear lane markings and then everyone ignoring those road markings and playing a game of Tetris with their vehicles. It certainly made for a few “we are gonna die” moments.

We arrive at The Lotus Temple, officially the Baha’i House of Worship, which is a stunning architectural building composing of 27 freestanding marble-clad petals to form the shape of a lotus flower. The temple is open to all, regardless of religion or qualification. This notion along with the architecture was, quite frankly, mind-blowing.

We spent the rest of the day temple-and-tomb-hopping back towards the central bazaar. What struck me the most was the continual combination of different religious symbols. Often one would see the Star of David, Arabic transcriptions and lotus flowers representing Hinduism and the like, together on one tomb. I had never experienced such a clearly non-homogenous nation living in such harmony.

After we had ticked off riding a rickshaw through the streets, wearing silk saris, and visiting temples, it was time for us to make arrangements for the following day. We booked our ride to the Taj Mahal and spent the evening working on our competition prep.

The trip to Agra is about 4 hours from New Delhi, so rather than getting up at 3 am to make it to the Taj in time for the sunrise (which is apparently breath taking), we opted for the more dignified departure time of 6am.

En route, we discovered from our driver that our fare actually included a local Agrarian tour guide to take us through the Taj. He was knowledgeable, friendly, trustworthy, and enriched the tour tenfold. The Taj is breath taking, astonishing and certainly a must see! While we spent 8 hours in the car on our second day in India, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The following day we made the NLU campus our home. In the afternoon we registered, and attended to competition admin. At the Inauguration Ceremony, formal addresses were made by esteemed guests: NLU Vice Chancellor, Prof. (Dr.) Ranbir Singh, partners Mr. Chris Parsons and Mr. Mark Bardell from Herbert Smith Freehills London, and Prof. (Dr.) G. S. Bajpai, Registrar, National Law University, Delhi. The cordial event ran seamlessly and after the panel of guests left, our compulsory introductory videos were broken out. While this did diminish our dignity, it did so collectively, setting all the contestants on an even keel for the first day of competition.

We found that the competition ran seamlessly – the NLU hospitality was second to none. We competed in and won our preliminary rounds negotiating with teams from Jindal Law School, India and Kings College, London. Cultural sensitivity was always a consideration, which is an important aspect of both the competition and the way we operate in the global economy. The ability to compete at an international level with many different cultures is insightful, challenging and quite frankly, rare.

The competition is fierce, and while we didn’t make it to semi-finals, we met competitors from all over the world: U.S., U.K., South Africa, Nigeria, Australia and India. The competition sessions are slightly longer than the typical university negotiation, and they don’t allow for breaks or caucusing so you often need to define your parameters before you enter the room – not knowing what the opposing team will do. Each judge scores you individually, which is then tallied up to make a team score. The judges are scrupulous, as they are comprised of local lawyers and international HSF lawyers.

Our overall experience undeniably left a lasting impression on us. We were able to explore an intoxicating city, meet fledging lawyers from all over the world and hone our negotiating skills. This competition is one that I would highly recommend to those who are keen to negotiate in an international context.

A special thanks must go to Marcus Martin at College of Law, who helped us to make it happen by generously donating $2,000 to our travel fund.

For more information about the Herbert Smith Freehills International Negotiation Competition visit their Facebook page

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