The winners of Harvard Law School’s 58th annual Williston Competition, Harvard’s annual contract negotiation and drafting competition for first-year law students, were announced on April 18.

This year’s winners were:

Best Overall Contract (1st Place): Ruchi Desai, Lisa Ma, Graham Phillips and Megan Riley.

Best Representation of Fresh Air (2nd Place): Matthew Aldana and Benjamin Freeman

Best Representation of Boston (2nd Place): Andrew Cath Rubenstein and Doug Smith

The Williston Competition presents participants with a complex business problem and charges them with representing a client in negotiations, trying to arrive at an agreement that they then reduce to writing.

This year’s problem was based on a previous effort by the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to convince London-based Virgin to choose Boston as their U.S. headquarters for a U.S. start-up airline.

“This was a wonderful experience for us that highlighted the importance of innovation and diligence in negotiation,” said Lisa Ma, who represented Boston.

It was not all work and no play for the competitors, though.

“We made sure to remain amicable throughout the process, even as a serious disagreement arose at around midnight the night before the deadline,” said Benjamin Freeman, representing Fresh Air.  Graham Phillips, representing Boston, quickly realized the usefulness of collaboration in creating value: “Once you’ve moved beyond the basic terms and are thinking about creative joint ventures, the process doesn’t really feel at all adversarial: it becomes more like a single team of four people.”

As the competition progressed, the focus shifted to drafting the agreement: “Putting the contract on paper was like trying to put a puzzle together,” said Doug Smith, representing Boston. “I think both sides thought the negotiating was over when we started drafting, but deciding on actual wording definitely forced us to negotiate many issues which we hadn’t thought about,”

The Board of Student Advisers and Harvard Negotiators run the Williston Competition jointly, under the supervision of Clinical Professor Robert Bordone, director of Harvard’s Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program.  “I was delighted not only by the high number of 1Ls who participated in this year’s Williston Competition but also by the energy, hard work, and enthusiasm with which so many teams approached the simulation,” Bordone remarked.

This year’s competition was judged by Aaron Dalnoot  ’12, Kristi Jobson ’12 and Erin Walczewski ’10, an associate at Cooley LLP.

Walczewski observed how pragmatic the students were in drafting their contracts: “It was evident from some of the agreements that the teams had developed a nuanced understanding of exactly the type of arrangements that reflected mutual gain and structured proper incentives for the contracting parties.  That sort of agreement in the real world is likely to be eagerly accepted by the client.”