Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2005-04-29

Two students at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law have proven that they are tops in the country when comes to mediation and negotiation.

Nika Gholston and Sara Williams returned from 2005 national mediation competition in Los Angeles, Calif., with the top award given by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the American Bar Association.

The win earned them an invitation to Paris, France, in January for the International Alternative Dispute Resolution competition sponsored by the International Chamber of Commerce and World Business Organization.

Gholston, of Montgomery, and Williams, of Tallahassee, Fla., used their best mediation skills to defeat the team from New York's Fordham University School of Law in the final round of the competition in Los Angeles April 12-15.
The problem dealt with a grandparent custody issue involving a child whose unmarried parents had died with no will advising who should care for the offspring. Both sets of grandparents wanted full custody.

In the competition, Gholston took the role of the attorney and Williams was a grandparent.

In mediation competition, teams are judged on how they use an effective combination of advocacy skills and a problem-solving approach. Negotiators are taught to learn about each other's interests, to brainstorm options, and how to select and shape a solution that meets their interests.

During the course of the national competition, students had to show their finesse in a variety of topics: property, museum provenance and employment, in addition to custody.

"We tried to downplay the emotions of the case with the grandparents," said Williams. "We wanted to focus on positive things to find the common interest of the two parties."

She and Gholston impressed the judges with their mediation skills and the self assessment that followed.

"They wanted to know that we understood the process of negotiation, and that we learned from what we did," said Williams, a second-year law student who serves as chief justice of the Cumberland Trial Board. She is a graduate of Florida State University.

Gholston, a third-year law student, remained in Los Angeles for a few days after the competition for job interviews. An Alabama A & M graduate who hopes to go into entertainment law after graduation in May, Gholston has caught the eye of several firms.

Cumberland adjunct professor Michelle Obradovic, a Cumberland graduate whose private practice specializes in mediation, is the team coach. She also attended the Los Angeles event.

According to Cumberland dean John Carroll, the national win underscores the school's growing national reputation for excellence in advocacy, both trial and mediation. "It is a tribute to the breadth of education we give our students," he noted.

Cumberland teams have previously won national titles in trial advocacy, but this is the first in the area of mediation.

Prior to the final round against Fordham, Gholston and Williams defeated a University of Tennessee Law School team in the semi-final round. That topic dealt with an employment dispute. Ironically, the pair had beaten a UT team in the regional competition in March to qualify for the national event.

In other preliminary rounds, the Cumberland students defeated Marquette University Law School in a dispute over ownership of art looted by Nazis in World War II, and the University of California-Hastings College of law in a property dispute.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.