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From Malibu to Elk Ridge, Negotiation Competition Prepares Students for Service

September 2019

Cory Thompson

Eighteen years ago, a small city named after a herd of elk was born just south of Salem, Utah. Today Elk Ridge only has about 4,000 residents. Though still relatively small, that’s roughly double what it had just a decade ago. The population boom has meant growing pains, like struggles to preserve a friendly, small-town vibe while ensuring code compliance. Without a city attorney, Elk Ridge turned to students in the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Clinic at BYU Law, including Gary Nielsen (’20) and Cory Thompson (’20).

Nielsen and Thompson leveraged the negotiation skills they had refined in the classroom and in competitions to help the city. Strategies like establishing clear ground rules, identifying key players and issues, and mirroring (or repeating back) questions and answers all came in handy as they helped design a new code-enforcement system built upon alternative dispute resolution best practices. The goal was to avoid officers and courtrooms as much as possible and instead handle the bulk of code enforcement issues through mediation.

Prior to the semester-long unpaid project, Thompson won the BYU Law negotiation competition and then represented the school at a regional negotiation competition in Malibu, California—a trip which “absolutely” helped prepare him to assist Elk Ridge.

When it comes to dispute resolution, Thompson says, “Academic practice actually translates into real-world contexts.” He adds, “The same techniques can be used in every instance to great effect.”

Financial donations to the law school helped defray Thompson’s costs of attending the competition. But the ADR program at BYU Law is only partially funded—the hotel expenses alone exceeded the total funding available to him through the law school. Still, Thompson is grateful for the financial assistance that he did receive. It helped make attending the regional competition possible, which helped prepare him to make a real-world impact in Elk Ridge.