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Liberty Law negotiations duo advances to nationals following ABA regionals title

Two Liberty University School of Law students, Gregory McCarthy and Hannah Todd, were recently named co-champions at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) regional negotiation competition in late October, punching their ticket to the ABA national championship competition in February.

Gregory McCarthy and Hannah Todd

McCarthy, a 3L student, and Todd, a 2L student, navigated their way through tough competitions during the two-day competition from Oct. 28-29, sweeping the preliminary rounds on Saturday and securing the co-championship in the final round on Sunday while facing off against various other prestigious law schools across the region.

By way of their victory at regionals, the duo now ranks among the top 20 negotiation teams in the country going into the national tournament in February.

In addition to McCarthy and Todd, 3L students Chavioleyette Fenelus and Jordan Jalil tied for fifth, missing the cutoff to advance to the finals by one point.

The competition gives law school students practical opportunities to put to work what they’ve learned in their courses, specifically in negotiation situations. McCarthy and Todd said students face different scenarios where they have to work collaboratively against students from other law schools to reach a mutually beneficial agreement favorable for their client.

Each round of the competition consisted of a common set of facts known by all participants as well as confidential information known only to the participants representing each side, with three judges overseeing the competition.

Joel Hesch, a School of Law professor who coaches the competition team, said that because only 3 percent of litigation actually goes to trial, settlement negotiation abilities are “one of the most important realized skills for attorneys.”

The tournament, sponsored by Samford University in Alabama, was held virtually, and McCarthy and Todd competed against other universities on a Zoom format from the School of Law. They were judged on criteria such as outcome, flexibility, teamwork, and their relationship with opposing teams.

Todd described the event as the “law school Olympics,” providing Liberty students great opportunities to be seen and represented on a big stage.

“Competitions allows our school to be represented and for others to understand the ability of our lawyering skills programs and talent we have here,” Todd said. “These accomplishments are helpful indicators for potential students as it demonstrates the program’s ability to further key skillsets.”

While they were assigned as teammates by Hesch, McCarthy said that after sparring against Todd during the tryouts leading up to the competition, and then later partnering up with her during training, he realized they would be great teammates.

“Our team balance works out great,” said McCarthy. “Teamwork is a crucial part we get judged on, and we balance each other well because she’s the public relations, articulate, and polished teammate to me.”

Hesch said he paired them together after seeing how eloquent and quick-witted they are and how easily the two were able to work together as a team.

The duo prepared for the competition with long hours of practice against fellow teammates as well as former Liberty Law students who have previously attended the same ABA national negotiations tournament. The competition proved long for the pair, who spent more than 12 hours on Saturday in matches.

From left: Gregory McCarthy, Professor Joel Hesch, and Hannah Todd.

Heading into competition, Todd said she was initially nervous, but the preparation the two went through, along with the great teammates, coaches, and mentors they had helped make the tournament a great success. The duo was trained in Hesch’s proprietary “Hesch Method” and received advice from former School of Law graduates and a once-national competition duo Mia Yugo and Chris Collins.

“We had done so much preparation where there were completely random fact patterns thrown at us that we were able to adapt very quickly and be flexible during the competition,” she said.

McCarthy said the two spent a lot of time considering the other side’s possible interests so when they walked into the negotiations, “we were prepared for everything and not surprised by anything.”

Hesch, who brings real-world experience in negotiations having secured more than $1 billion in settlements for clients while working for the U.S. Department of Justice, has been coaching for 16 years. McCarthy and Todd are the 11th duo from Liberty to advance to the national competitions, where the school has finished as high as second place.

“When I was able to actually watch the competition, Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Todd performed as well as practicing attorneys do, so I was very impressed,” Hesch said,

As they prepare for in-person nationals in February, McCarthy and Todd will continue to practice with each other until they receive their fact pattern for the event in January, which is when they’ll hit the ground running in search of a national championship.

“It’s not just sparring in practice, but we’re going to be intentional and think strategically about how to fine tune our method to discover what the formula to win nationals is,” McCarthy said.

“We are going to practice a lot because there’s a big difference between in-person and virtual rounds,” Todd said. “We want to be sure to have in-person sparring experience and continue to build our teamwork as we prepare to represent Liberty at Nationals in February.”

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