Pathfinders and the Art of Negotiation

Contributed by: Christine Cox Reinauer, GEN’s Board of Directors and the Pathfinder Giving Circle Chair

GEN feels it’s important to teach girls about negotiation, not only because some may want to become attorneys someday, but because it’s such an important part of navigating a career, managing relationships at school and all interpersonal relationships. So something we’ve been working on with our Pathfinder group finally came together and it turned out even better than we expected!

Pathfinder girls, GEN staff, and lawyers from McGinnis Lochridge pose for a group picture

Pathfinder girls, GEN staff, and lawyers from McGinnis Lochridge pose for a group picture

At the law offices of McGinnis Lochridge in downtown Austin last week, Simone Otenaike, a lawyer with the firm, led a negotiations workshop for girls involved in GEN’s annual Pathfinder Program, now in its third year. Pathfinder is a personal/professional leadership program offering high school girls a head start toward college, career & independence. The program serves 30 young women in a week long leadership summit in June and an additional 70 girls in year round workshops. This particular workshop, one year in the planning, included twelve girls and also featured a panel of five female lawyers.


The morning began with an icebreaker, as most GEN events begin, and the girls were reminded by Caroline Crawford, the GEN Program Director, that “When you go into a negotiation (and negotiations go on all day) you make decisions and choices that effect everything you do.”


Simone explained to the girls that “negotiation is the base line for everything we do, and it takes preparation to get to the desired goal when making an agreement.” The girls seemed hooked already, seeing the value in learning the art.

Simone Otenaike leads the girls in an activity about negotiation

Simone Otenaike leads the girls in an activity about negotiation

Simone went on to clarify that “when two people make an agreement, and the agreement doesn’t work out, lawyers go in and try to find a way to work things out.” She went on to point out that there are many aspects and facets of agreements that affect the outcome.  The girls seemed curious as she went on to explain what is a “mistake of fact.” She also discussed how different personalities tend to operate within interpersonal negotiations. “Some of us are peacekeepers, some of us like to continue to argue a point, some of us like to be the person, like a judge, that makes final decisions.” This got the girls speculating on their place in interpersonal negotiations!


Simone pointed to the different kinds of positions created within the practice of law – some lawyers are litigators, some are transactional attorneys, some deal in finance or criminal defense. This prompted the girls to start asking about what subjects in school would best prepare them for a legal career. “There is no one subject that best prepares you,” explained Simone. “Pursue your interests in undergrad. Law school will teach you everything else!”


The girls asked Simone questions about how the negotiation process plays out legally, and they were interested in how or when a judge needs to become involved. In the end, Simone pointed out that mediations are better options that are less stressful than taking a negotiation before a judge or jury. Then, she introduced the room to the panel!


The panel of five lawyers, including a judge, took the conversation further addressing community relations, honesty, staying calm and working on patience.  “Patience,” said Judge Ami Larson, “is an important trait in all negotiations.”


Here are four things the panel described as crucial to planning to a legal career:

•     Decide what you do and don’t like (do you like being around people or are you more of a loner, do you like writing or not, etc.)

•     Expose yourself to many different things. Volunteer and get involved but focus on school and stick with it even when it’s tough.

•     Persevere: don’t think you can’t do something, that you’re not good enough. Welcome opportunities even when things don’t go well.

•     Read. Read papers. Read novels, read history, travel as much as you can, watch PBS!

The girls seemed super receptive and asked lots of great questions. In the end, everyone felt it was four hours well spent! One of the girls ended the day on an uplifting note! “You can chose what you do,” Melanie, a 12th grader from San Marcos high school, observed, “but you can’t chose what you like to do!”


McGinnis Lochridge partner, Jo Ann Merica, answers the girls’ questions


Special thanks to our Get It Girl sponsors:

Felicia Gonzalez