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Meet the Organisers of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot
Apprentice Lawyer

Meet the Organisers of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot

Shreya V

The Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot is the most sought-after arbitration moot in the world. And Bar & Bench speaks to the three Directors behind the organisation of this moot.

Dr. Christopher Kee is the Director (Dean) of the Graduate School for the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Prof. (Dr.) Stefan Kröll is an independent arbitrator in Cologne and an honorary professor at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. Ms. Patrizia Netal is an attorney and partner in the Dispute Resolution team of a Vienna-based law firm.

Bar & Bench: As a law student, what drew you towards mooting? Looking back, what do you think are the benefits of mooting?

Prof. Christopher Kee (CK): At first I was drawn to mooting because I felt advocacy was a natural part of being a lawyer. But with hindsight I now realized that there are many more important reasons that should motivate you to become involved in mooting – whether that is as a student, coach or arbitrator/judge.

There was nothing in my law school education that prepared me for practice in the way that participating in the Vis Moot did. In moots generally you are forced to think about how you present your argument. By this I don’t mean just what you are physically wearing (though that is important), but what order will you structure your points in, how will you respond to questions, do you pre-empt the other sides arguments? In the context of the Vis and real life practice, I found myself working with a team of people from different year levels and stages of life (who initially I didn’t really know) – that is far more like a law firm than law school.

Experienced practitioners should also become involved in Moot courts, whether that is an coach, arbitrator or judge. It is important part of giving back to our legal community, and the impact you can have on a young student’s career may be profound. But less altruistically, events like the Vis Moot are wonderful networking opportunities. At the Vis Moot we have a good number of Indian teams participating, but we have disproportionately fewer arbitrators from India. We would particularly welcome members of the Indian arbitration community.

B&B: As a coach, what did you think were the most common mistakes teams made? And how does one rectify them?

Prof. Stefan Kröll (SK): In my view the three most common approaches of the teams are:

  • Lack of focus on the strong arguments: Many teams want to cover all arguments in some detail and thereby also raise weaker arguments. That has the effect of weakening the impression made by the strong arguments. Furthermore they want to raise all arguments in the oral submission. In particular native speakers then sometimes have the tendency to speak to fast forgetting that the tribunal is often composed of non-native speaker. It is usually more effective to drop one argument than to rush through all arguments. When timing their oral presentation teams should take into account that under pressure they may need some more time and keep one minute in reserve. It can always be used in the rebuttal/surrebuttal if available.
  • Complicated arguments: During my first year as a coach we had very good memoranda but did not make it to the elimination rounds. The main reason was that our legal arguments were good but too complicated to be presented by non-native speakers orally and under pressure. Since then we made sure that you did not need more than two steps to develop arguments orally unless we knew that the arbitrator was an experienced arbitrator who would give us the time and value a detailed legal reasoning.
  • Lack of a plan B for the oral hearing: Many teams now have well-rehearsed presentations for the oral hearing. The best way of distinguishing a well-trained team from a truly excellent team is to prevent them as much as possible from merely presenting something pre-rehearsed and engage them in a discussion about the underlying legal issues. Teams should carefully listen to the questions asked and try to take the opportunity to show their understanding by answering these questions, instead of just giving an answer which does not really fit. That requires in the preparation of the case to look a little bit beyond the problem and try to understand the underlying concepts and economic implications.

B&B: Ms. Netal, what do you think makes Vis one of the most coveted moots in the world?

Ms. Patrizia Netal (PN): The Moot offers much more than the competition aspect. It has developed to a platform for meeting future colleagues from all over the world, a platform for discussions with the most experienced practitioners on arbitration and the CISG. The Moot offers students the opportunity to perform in front of distinguished arbitral tribunals and to start to build a network for their future career. There are so many side-events, conferences and seminars during the Moot week that the Moot has become an important professional event for the arbitrators.

B&B: In one of his interviews, Prof. Bergsten said that winning is just one aspect of the moot, it is more for students to learn. Do you think that moots are becoming a bit too competitive? 

CK, SK & PN: Moots need not be too competitive, and one of the roles we have as directors of the Vis Moot is to ensure that it remains first and foremost an educational exercise. The competition forces pull on a Moot in a variety of ways. We can only speak for the Vis Moot, but there are two aspects in particular.

The first is amongst the students themselves. Naturally they are keen to perform well – and so they should be. However, it is important that they remember that they are already winners simply for participating. To prove this point you could ask someone to name that team that won the 6th moot. The majority of people couldn’t without looking this up. However, most if not all will know someone in legal practice who has participated in the moot at some stage. Participating gives you the experience you benefit from when looking for a job.

The second aspect are those that provide funding and sponsorship for the students. Unfortunately, it is not a cheap exercise to send a team to the Vis Moot. There are many calls on university budgets, and administrators might be faced with the question of spending X amount on a small group of students but having an extraordinary influence on their careers, or spending that same amount of money on a large class when the level of impact is considerably less, but the benefits are more widely spread. It is a challenge. Practitioners, particularly those with first-hand experience of the benefits of the moot, can help this by providing support to teams.

B&B: Could you give us a brief overview of what goes into organising the moot ie when do preparations start, how do you choose the arbitrators etc?

CK, SK & PN: There is no real pause in between two Moots regarding organizational matters. Immediately after the orals take place in Vienna you have to finish the Moot business year and start with the organization for the next one. You have to plan for the budget, resources and reserve the venues for the orals. In summer the organization gets more into the details.

Early in summer, we  start liaising with the institution whose arbitral rules will be used, drafting the problem, working with IT professionals to build and improve the necessary IT software, begin the process of negotiating contracts with the venues and services we use in Vienna. Teams can usually start registering from late July, arbitrators from October. Once registration opens we get a large number of daily queries about all sorts of matters.

The composition of the actual panels that hear the moots in Vienna is a carefully managed process. Thanks to our new IT system we are able to gather and more easily use experience information about our arbitrators. We usually try to ensure that every panel has a mixture of experience and legal family. We also have to be mindful of conflicts of interest.

Add to this the varying availabilities of arbitrators and it is a bit like doing a jigsaw with a moving picture as a guide!