In March 2012, I took part in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna on behalf of the Free University of Berlin. The moot offered the chance, not only to compete alongside 1800 students from 71 countries, but also to gain an insight into the world of international arbitration.
The problem in the Vis Moot follows a familiar story in international trade: a dispute arises between buyer and seller.
The problem in the Vis Moot follows a familiar story in international trade: a dispute arises between buyer and seller. Under the contract, the dispute falls to be decided not by a national court, but by an arbitral tribunal applying the parties’ chosen law and procedure. Having never studied international sale of goods, this immediately took me out of my comfort zone: English law was now of very little use and instead I had to brush up on the Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG), UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, the CIETAC rules of procedure and the 1958 New York Convention. Don’t worry if that sounds like gibberish – I felt the same way at the start, but the Vis Moot is an educational experience as well as a competition.
The written stage
The competition runs from October to April. The first stage entails exchanging written submissions. Each team is required to a file a memorandum for both the claimant and respondent. In the oral rounds, teams must argue the case from both perspectives, so it’s best to get the practice in early! Rather than a two-page skeleton argument, each memorandum may be over forty pages long and takes weeks to write. Teamwork is a necessity, and even then there’s usually a last-minute rush before the midline deadline, followed by a sigh of relief and maybe a glass of wine.
The oral stage
With the memoranda submitted, many universities use the springtime to host ‘pre-moots’ before the final stage in Vienna. In my case, this meant trips to Hamburg and Hanover where we squared off against teams from across Europe. It’s a chance to polish your presentation and pinch any good arguments from the other side.
Naturally, having spent the past six months working on the same problem, a lot of the participants adopt a ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy, and the Vis Moot’s official bar is packed most evenings with students either celebrating or drowning their sorrows. Vienna itself is a beautiful city and certainly worth exploring in your spare time.
Rather than a two-page skeleton argument, each memorandum may be over forty pages long and takes weeks to write.
Why take part?
The Vis Moot is unlike any other moot. It’s something of a culture shock for English lawyers: the style is less adversarial, with the parties seated, and there is a great focus on teamwork even in the oral pleadings. Moreover, citing case law is far less convincing for civil lawyers than it is for those raised on the doctrine of precedent, so academic writings must be given equal weight. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to travel and meet other law students from around the world – our opponents ranged from Serbian to Ethiopian universities – and it was eye-opening to learn how many teams had prepared their case without access to Westlaw, expensive textbooks or many resources we take for granted.
With over 700 lawyers, arbitrators and professors attending as well, it’s also an opportunity for interested students to make connections and take the first step towards a career in international commercial arbitration. A Moot Alumni Association also allows former competitors to stay in touch, keep up-to-date with developments in the law and access advice on how to break into arbitration.
Registration for the 21 Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot is recommended by 3 October when the problem is released; the final deadline is 29 November 2013.
Robert Bradshaw graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2013, where he studied Law with German. He will begin as a trainee solicitor at an international commercial firm in 2014. His legal areas of interest include international and comparative law and dispute resolution.