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Deakin (Students) Deciding – Written and Oral Argument at the Vis Moot

The oral rounds for the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot are here again.  This week, students from 115 teams from around the world are putting oral argument relating to difficult international commercial law issues in front of arbitrators comprising practitioners, academics, and other professionals at the Vis (East) Moot in Hong Kong.  There will be over 300 teams doing the same, over the coming weeks, in Vienna.  Over the course of last ‘season’s’ mooting, I posted to Deakin Speaking with some reflections on 10 years of involvement with the Vis Moot, and on the topic of ‘Deakin (Students) Speaking – Practical Legal Skills Training and the Vis Moot’.  Following on from those posts, I discuss here a different aspect of student participation in the Vis Moot – the idea of Deakin students ‘deciding’.

How does student participation in a mooting competition raise the issue of ‘decision’?  Isn’t it the arbitrators (or in other moots – judges) who are the deciders, rather than the students themselves?  The Vis Moot raises the necessity of student ‘decision’ because in developing written and oral argument for the event, students are required to critically analyse their work in a way that resembles the kind of difficult critical analysis needed in legal practice – but which is not usually required of other subjects in an LLB curriculum.

Of course, all law students (by necessity) critically analyse their own work.  The difference experienced by students taking part in the Vis Moot relates to the sustained attention that they are able to give to their work over an extended period of time.  In the initial stage of their preparations, teams will develop a set of legal submissions for the Claimant in the dispute, over a period exceeding a month.  In preparing those submissions, students are faced with the necessity of dealing with a wide range of legal arguments over a piece of writting fixed at 35 pages of facts, argument and conclusions.  This year’s Vis Moot problem is an excellent example of a problem raising a large number of individual legal issues.  Students must be selective – on the basis of their continuing legal research, what are the most important arguments to put?  What arguments are necessary?  What arguments are the strongest?  And how can they be packaged in a way that is convincing for an arbitral tribunal?  All of these questions imply decision.

Likewise, in the next stage of their preparations, teams will develop legal submissions for the Respondent – again, over a period exceeding a month, and with only 35 pages of argument allowed.  However, in the case of the Respondent submissions, Vis Moot students do not respond in the abstract – they respond to a set of actual arguments put forward by another participating team in its own Claimant submissions.  Here, decision is requried once again – what are the best arguments to put in response to these particular arguments raised by our opposing team?  What kind of language should be used in making that response?  Where is the line to be drawn between putting the case as strongly as it can be put, and being unprofessionally abrupt?  And do these points raised all really go to the key questions that the arbitrators will be concerned with?

In the final stage of teams’ preparations, these written arguments are developed into oral submissions.  Here, selectivity decisions are even more important – students have 15 minutes to put a set of submissions in oral argument that might very well have occupied 15 pages or more in their written work.  In addition, decisions as to presentation style also become crucial.  The aim is not just to be ‘correct’ – but also to be persuasive.  One does not necessarily follow from the other.

One of the great aspects of the Vis Moot is that students engage with their peers from all around the world.  In doing so, they get exposure as to how their international counterparts have approached these same ‘decisions’.  Right now, this week in Hong Kong, 115 teams are having this experience and learning how (and why) their own decisions coincide and diverge from those of their contemporaries – and they are learning a lot more about their own decisions in the process.

This post is a revised version of a post originally appearing in 2015.