Another Response to BDS: Israeli and U.S. Law Students Simulating Business Negotiations

Just as many schools are enduring Israel hate weeks, and Jews are lamenting the proliferation of anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaigns, a novel program is being offered for American law students who will travel to Israel for a unique opportunity to participate in an international business negotiations simulation. The students are exposed to the type of real world negotiation conducted by international transactional lawyers; something law schools generally don’t teach. Moreover, by engaging with Israeli peers, they experience a cross-cultural immersion that would otherwise not be a part of their education.

The simulation is taught by Jay Finkelstein, a partner at DLA Piper and also a member of the adjunct faculties at Stanford, Berkeley and Georgetown, who has been practicing what he is now teaching for more than 30 years. According to Finkelstein, “the International Business Negotiations class is a transactional law, practical skills, experiential learning course that has been developed over a 12-year period and is currently offered at 15 U.S. law schools, including five of the top 15, as well as 11 international law schools in countries, in addition to Israel, such as Germany, Belgium, China, Brazil and Russia.” Students simulate the negotiation of a transaction between an American multinational pharmaceutical corporation and a company in a developing African nation which has a raw material necessary for a new drug. Each class represents a different party in the negotiations, which involve legal and economic analysis of the transaction and the social and political issues presented.

With respect to the class taught in Israeli law schools, it has been previously offered via video-conference to students paired at Hebrew University and Fordham, and a second group partnered at the law schools of Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago. In May 2015, Finkelstein took the project to the next level by bringing together 11 second-year law students (Jewish and non-Jewish) from Northwestern University for one week of intensive face-to-face negotiations with 12 students at Tel Aviv University Law School. In his evaluation of the program in Israel, Finkelstein described the courses goals and objectives:

The purpose of the course was to provide students with an opportunity to gain insight into the dynamics of negotiating and structuring international business transactions, to learn about the role that lawyers and law play in these negotiations, and to give students experience in drafting communications and actual negotiations. Students also learned about the legal and business issues that may arise in joint ventures, supply agreements, and licensing agreements.  Faculty from Northwestern University School of Law provided a full day course on negotiations best practices and cross-cultural training and then provided participants the opportunity to work across cultures with students from a different country on a complex transaction. It further provided the U.S. students with a personal-level introduction to Israel and their Israeli colleagues in a joint learning experience and cultural and social exchange (exactly as would occur in an actual international business transaction). 

After nearly five days of intense negotiation, the students agreed to a deal. “By working through both the substantive legal issues as well as negotiation process issues, combined with trust building activities,” Finkelstein concluded, “it’s clear that we can train our students to solve the toughest negotiation problems our law student cum lawyers will face in the future.” As an added benefit, students built friendships that will be personally rewarding and potentially helpful professionally in the future.

This is not a Birthright trip to tour Israel; it is an example of a more focused program based on students’ chosen professions. A handful of business schools have also created joint programs with Israelis to gain international business experience -- and school credits. In addition, the American students spend time experiencing Israel during their free time in Tel Aviv and a day-tour of Jerusalem with their new Israeli law school friends. Participants are also introduced to Israeli officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as lawyers and judges, including members of Israel’s Supreme Court.

Student evaluations were laudatory, with 100 percent of the students agreeing (95 percent strongly agreed) that the course should be offered again in the future to TAU and Northwestern Law Students. In addition, all of the students agreed, most strongly, that learning goals for the course were met; that their legal ability improved; that they benefited from exploring alternative perspectives and approaches to complex legal issues, and that the overall quality of the course was excellent. Only 95 percent of the students (the other 5 percent were neutral), agreed the course helped them to reason better, and to think more critically about the subject matter. Student comments further reflected their appreciation of the course and its instructors:

  • The greatest strengths of the course were the multi-hour, multi-day nature of the negotiations and also the cultural exchange. There were several times when our team wasn't sure if there was a disagreement in the terms or simply a misunderstanding of something that was just lost in translation. It forced us to ask better, clarifying questions rather than make assumptions about the other party's interests, which is an essential negotiations lesson.
  • We all feel as though we're learning what the real-world negotiation would be like.
  • The major issue is understanding the difference between a deal lawyer and a litigator. It changed completely the way I view my desired legal profession.
  • The practicality of the course was the most valuable for me. In other courses, we spend more time on theory and critical thinking, but actually engaging and role-playing provides much more value for students.
  • Learning to communicate with a foreign culture is more practical with foreign students than students from, say, UCLA.

The course in Israel was so successful last year that Finkelstein has arranged another class between Northwestern University and Tel Aviv University to take place in Israel this May, and he is hoping to expand the program to allow students from other law schools to engage in similar negotiations with their Israeli counterparts. Other law schools are also interested in creating similar programs based on Finkelstein’s model; not surprisingly the major obstacle is finding the necessary funds to cover students’ travel expenses. This year, Northwestern students will pay about $500 each to cover housing in Tel Aviv University dormitories and incidentals; airfare is paid from funding support.

This type of program, which focuses on the interests of students, is critical to developing a nuanced understanding and appreciation of Israel. Rather than trying to tell students why they should identify with Israel, students develop a natural bond from interacting directly with their Israeli peers and from learning first-hand that Israel shares values and interests with the United States. On a more personal level, they see that Israel has something – in this case, the opportunity to learn legal skills that can help their careers – that interests and benefits them.