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Reflections on 10 Years with the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot

On Wednesday 5 November 2014, students from the Deakin Law School commenced their preparations for the 2014 / 2015 Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna, and its sister competition – the Vis (East) Moot in Hong Kong.  Deakin Law School has a distinguished history in the event – taking part each year, in both Vienna and Hong Kong, that it has run.  This year’s event, however, has personal significance as well – marking a decade of my own involvement, in various forms.  Having taken part as a student, judged practice rounds for the Deakin Law School for two years, and now coaching my seventh season – what might one say, on reflection, about 10 years with the Vis Moot?

The Vis Moot is both a law student’s and legal academic’s dream opportunity to learn – and continue learning – about private international law.  International commercial arbitration and the international sale of goods are increasingly recognised as important legal subject-matters in Australia.  The opportunity to address these areas of law alongside hundreds of teams from all around the world offers participating law students a unique educational opportunity.  This educational opportunity is the real take-home from the Vis Moot.  The now famous Competition Rule 3 from both the Vienna and Hong Kong events envisages the Vis Moot as primarily an educational endeavour, framed around a competition (which is the secondary focus) – and not a competition with incidental educational benefits.  The opportunity to study cutting-edge international commercial law issues in the depth afforded by the Vis Moot is a key differentiating feature compared to the traditional lectures-assignments-and-exams model of law study.

The Vis Moot is also an excellent opportunity for students to learn in a different way than they would otherwise do in their regular law study.  Students approach a complex legal problem – a hypothetical legal dispute set out in a bundle of documents that this year comprises 72 pages.  They not only apply the law to that problem, but apply it in light of conflicting evidence, and apply it through practically-focused milestones that include written legal submissions and also the oral presentation of argument.  Students are furthermore invited to critically assess the state of the evidence initially presented.  Through a clarifications process, students are invited to submit questions requesting further facts or further information about the various applicable laws, which are then answered and become part of the Vis Moot problem.  In this way, the Vis Moot allows students to think about the significance of the evidence presented, and also the significance of what might (initially) be missing.

As a Vis Moot coach, it is immensely professionally rewarding to see students begin their preparations often having no prior study of international commercial law, and conclude their participation with a genuine expertise in the issues they have studied.  With their formal participation concluded, it is also wonderful to see the level of engagement retained, through formal associations such as the Moot Alumni Association, and also when past participants return in subsequent years (as I did myself) to judge practice rounds for successive teams.

That said, the Vis Moot is an event squarely about the students – and to that, three particular points of reflection come to mind.  I look forward to addressing these on Deakin Speaking in the coming weeks, when I address the topics of Deakin (Students) Speaking, Deakin (Students) Deciding, and Deakin (Students) Teaching.  And for all students embarking on the Vis Moot journey for the 2014 / 2015 season, we wish you the best of luck!

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