Reflections on the Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot

We meet the four students who made up the City team in the 2015-16 Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. They give us an insight into the workload requirements, what they gained from the experience and where the biggest challenges were.

Arthur Graham-Dixon

Hugh Oldham scholar at Corpus Christi Oxford. Graduated in Classics in July 2015 with a double first, ranked 7th at Finals. Educated at Highgate School; maximum scholarship at 13+ entrance of 50% reduced fees. Currently studying GDL at City University; looking to pursue a career at the Commercial Bar (minis completed at 3 VB, 7 KBW, and Wilberforce).

How much work was involved before the final submissions? How did you fit this in around your studies and other commitments?

For both the written submissions and the oral pleadings, a lot of work was required. On the written side of things, this involved legal research and re-reads of the moot problem, and in my case discussion with a team-mate and repeated collaborative re-drafting. For the oral pleadings, a lot of the work is gauging how to transition from dissertation-length argument to 15-minute submissions. Then you have to “stress-test”, in which you try to anticipate arbitrators’ questions so that you can have good answers with references ready to hand. The two preparatory moots we did also took up three half-days.

The first written submissions are drafted during the winter vac so there is not much of a course-clash there. However, my GDL work did sometimes take a back-seat during the second term and this does make the revision period before exams more strenuous. A pre-moot also fell two days after a pro bono hearing I was doing. In the circumstances I simply neglected Vis preparations until the day before: real clients take precedent over the imaginary. As a side-note: American Vis-moot students are wont to complain of their social life being stripped away, but I think this is more a reflection of general shock after the lesser demands of their high school system. Besides, the sacrifices are worth it.

Did you know anything about International Commercial Arbitration before this competition, and if not – did it matter?

No and no. Lots of the other universities who compete come to the moot with a similar lack of experience. Others are doing post-grad courses in the field but this does not always translate into successful mooting.

How would you summarise the subject area for newbies to this area of law?

Conceptually interesting and a good contrast to a common law system. There is nothing that binds in this forum. You need to be ready to scrutinise, explain, and justify everything.

Were there challenges to working in a team, how did you split the work?

This really depends on how the team splits up early on. I worked on the major substantive issue with a fellow GDL student. It happened that the question could be split into separate questions of whether a remedy was theoretically available and whether it was available on the facts, so we took each half. Things get more difficult when preparing the oral pleadings. There tend to be three issues but only two speakers, so often, as in my case, you may have to learn the arguments written by a team-mate and be ready to present them to a tribunal. At first this can be difficult, because disagreement might emerge over the best tactics during oral pleadings. However, this is a blessing in disguise. The debate does much of the leg-work for “stress-testing” the case.

What were your go-to sources when researching for this moot?

The Pace University website on the CISG is absolutely the number one guide for the substantive issues. It has case law and the majority of the crucial academic writing on parts of the CISG. The CISG Online database was also useful for cases. Our coach, Petya, was also brilliant at providing us directly with relevant sources.

What would you say to those considering applying to join the City Vis team next year?

Apply. As well as involving lots of written work, unlike most moots, it also is unique in that you moot against sides who are not beholden to any argumentative structure. You do not see their skeleton in advance. This forces you to think on your feet, a skill which interviewers are always looking for.

What would you consider are the most important skills required of students in this competition?

Structured argumentative writing; legal research; structured oral pleading; thinking on feet; confident speaking; teamwork.

What were your expectations when you applied for the City Vis team and were they met?

I knew it would involve a lot of work, a lot of research, a fair bit of oral pleading, and a trip to Vienna. It was a lot of work, but ultimately not as much research as I thought (although some teams do the moot as e.g. a degree option and do a huge amount). We did more pre-mooting than I anticipated but this was great, as the standard of arbitration was extremely high and made for great experience. Finally, the trip to Vienna was longer than I realised and it was brilliant to have some spare time to walk around the city and see some of the fantastic art which is kept there.

If you could change one thing in your preparation for the moot, what would it be?

Oral pleadings – making the argument as simple as possible. Complex arguments might be best in real life, but in a 15 minute artificial moot you need to “play the game”.

How is the Willem C Vis Moot different from other moots you participated in?

See my answer on why to apply!

Yuen Ping Lim

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Received her degree in LLB (Hons) Law from the University of Nottingham in 2015. Work experience from mini-pupillages and legal internships in KL, Nottingham and London. A BPTC student at the City Law School, part of the City University team for the Willem C Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot.

How much work was involved before the final submissions? How did you fit this in around your studies and other commitments?

The entire preparation process lasted for about 5 – 6 months in total, from start to finish.  The Vis Moot definitely requires a good commitment and consistent work throughout, as we were required to complete written submissions on behalf of both the Claimant and Respondent, and then to prepare for the oral submissions – with a few pre-moots in between. I dealt with the additional workload by setting internal deadlines for both academics as well as my extra-curricular work, and tried sticking to it as closely as possible. Also, although having more to manage, I realised I was able to better focus whilst doing my work, perhaps due to the sense of urgency and adrenaline that kicked in for knowing that there is less time for everything else. Therefore, I personally think that the time and effort invested in the moot was really worth it as it resulted in a productive year.

Did you know anything about International Commercial Arbitration before this competition, and if not – did it matter?

No. In fact, I have never studied any substantive commercial law prior to the competition although having done commercial conflicts of law as part of my law degree. I am sure it would have helped if one has some prior knowledge about this area of law/legal practice, but I felt that researching into this area from ground zero did not hinder our preparation for the moot. We had a fresh outlook on the matter which, with the helpful guidance provided by our coach Petya, yielded an interesting learning experience.

How would you summarise the subject area for newbies to this area of law?

International commercial arbitration is an ever expanding area, with a wide pool of authorities and resources contributing to its legal academia continuously. But what is as equally important to learning the law itself is to utilise that legal knowledge to further the client’s interest. The Vis Moot provided us with a good training in this respect as we appeared on behalf of both the Claimants and Respondents by working on the same factual pattern.

Were there challenges to working in a team, how did you split the work?

There were 4 of us in the team and the work was divided equally into substantive and procedural issues. The main challenges of it being a team effort were the need to ensure that the written memorandums were consistent throughout both in terms of substance and formalities. However, we worked through the written submissions quite smoothly as the team was very co-operative and maintained good communications throughout.

What were your go-to sources when researching for this moot?

I mostly relied on the CISG database and the Kluwer Arbitration when researching for the moot. Petya also provided us with a generous volume of articles on the relevant area that we were researching on.

What would you say to those considering applying to join the City Vis team next year?

Go for it! Of course it involves hard work and consistent effort throughout, but the skills you gained, the people you meet along the way, and the mooting experience overall will make it up for every bit of effort you invest in the preparation.

What would you consider are the most important skills required of students in this competition?

Teamwork and diligence, I would say.

What were your expectations when you applied for the City Vis team and were they met?

To be frank, I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for the team – I didn’t know much about international commercial arbitration; not exactly sure how the competition will be structured; and have absolutely no clue as to who my teammates were. Fortunately, everything turned out for the better and as abovementioned, Petya gave us really good guidance along the way, and my teammates were very enjoyable people to work with.

If you could change one thing in your preparation for the moot, what would it be?

I would have opted to participate in more pre-moots as part of the preparation. It was not something that I could have changed on hindsight as our schedules so filled up, but I would say that the pre-moots provided a good opportunity to have our submissions stress tested before the final submissions in Vienna. So I would have chosen to do more of them if I could.

How is the Willem C Vis Moot different from other moots you participated in?

The huge size of the mooting community and its international nature sets the Vis Moot apart from the previous mooting competitions that I participated in. The diversity in culture and variance in legal perspectives that is inherent in the community has provided me with a better understanding of an international legal practice.

Kah Wei

Graduate from the University of Cambridge (BA Law), currently doing a BPTC at City Law School. Completed a banking internship in J.P. Morgan last summer, when his team won the CIMA Global Business Challenge (UK Final).

How much work was involved before the final submissions? How did you fit this in around your studies and other commitments?

Before the final submission, the work revolves around researching on the laws, dissecting the facts, and structuring the arguments. It also deals with word formatting such as citation, table of contents, and the overall design of the written memoranda.

Since I have a 4-day break per week for my BPTC, I utilised them to do my ground research on international commercial arbitration. It may be a tough challenge, but eventually I managed to pull through.

Did you know anything about International Commercial Arbitration before this competition, and if not – did it matter?

I had zero knowledge on International Commercial Arbitration before the Vis Moot, and it did not matter at all. In fact, joining Vis Moot is a way to let participants explore and decide if International Commercial Arbitration suits them.

How would you summarise the subject area for newbies to this area of law?

Generally, they need to know about the substantive and procedural laws that govern the given issues. Procedural laws such as UNCITRAL Model Law and Arbitral Institution Rules govern the power of the Arbitral Tribunal to grant what you have requested; while substantive laws such as CISG and UNIDROIT Principle govern the contracts for international sale of goods.

Two basic questions should be considered: (1) does the Arbitral Tribunal has the power to grant what you request? (2) If yes, whether the substantive laws provide you a legal basis to give what you request?

Were there challenges to working in a team, how did you split the work?

I think the key here is collaboration. During the first meeting, we were divided into 2 teams: two members dealt with the procedural matters, while the other two handled the substantive matters. However, the division between the procedural and substantive matters is not that clear this year, since the question was structured in a rather unique way. We ended up discussing our issues a lot over the meeting which contributed to the overall architecture of the submission.

What were your go-to sources when researching for this moot?

Both City Law Library and Inns Library are equipped well with the materials that I require for the research. Books such as Redfern & Hunter, Gary Born on International Arbitration, and Schlechtriem and Schwenzer are great books to start.

What would you say to those considering applying to join the City Vis team next year?

If they like legal challenges, are committed to their work and want the international exposure, I would say joining the Vis Moot is certainly the wisest choice.

What would you consider are the most important skills required of students in this competition?

Commitment, teamwork, and flexibility

What were your expectations when you applied for the City Vis team and were they met?

I expect to polish up my advocacy and research skills, and to learn about international commercial arbitration in general. These expectations were met.

If you could change one thing in your preparation for the moot, what would it be?

I would want to change the collaboration software that we are using, but it is not within my capability to do so.

How is the Willem C Vis Moot different from other moots you participated in?

From the mooting perspective, Vis moot involves both the written and oral submissions, which is different from the conventional moots. Furthermore, Vis moot exposes me to the mooting styles from both the civil law and common law jurisdictions.

Ben Norton

A graduate from Cambridge University. Currently studying GDL at City University. Has completed a number of mini-pupillages.

How much work was involved before the final submissions? How did you fit this in around your studies and other commitments?

We completed two memorandums (one on each side of the argument) and competed in two ‘pre-moot’ competitions. Writing the memorandums takes the most time, and particularly the first one you do. Once you have completed these, preparation is limited to simplifying your arguments so that they are appropriate for a 15 minute submission, and ‘stress-testing’ the material to ensure you can answer anything the Tribunal might ask. For a GDL comparison, I would say that writing the first memorandum is the equivalent of doing an extra two GDL modules for that period.

Did you know anything about International Commercial Arbitration before this competition, and if not – did it matter?

No. It’s not a problem at all. You have enough time to get up to speed, and the moot is going to be about very specific subject areas, so only a basic understanding of international commercial arbitration is actually required.

How would you summarise the subject area for newbies to this area of law?

Do you mean the areas we worked on, or international commercial arbitration?

Were there challenges to working in a team, how did you split the work?

It was difficult to work in a team as all five team members worked and lived in different places, which made it difficult to meet up. However, we made the most of applications such as Skype and information sharing tools like DropBox. There were three issues which we had to split between four people, which was difficult. It’s important for everyone to have a basic understanding of all the issues at the beginning so you can split the work more effectively.

What were your go-to sources when researching for this moot?

The CISG database for cases and articles.

Our coach, Petya, was fantastic in finding and uploading a large number of full-text pdf resources in our shared folder.

What would you say to those considering applying to join the City Vis team next year?

Pros:

  • The Vis Moot involves in-depth focus in a particular area, and extensive academic research. If you are doing the GDL this offers a nice balance to your course, where there isn’t much scope to go into detail and read academic writing.
  • The quality of the arbitrators can be exceptional. The highlight for me was competing in an international pre-moot competition in London. Among others, there were a few notable QCs who gave us a real grilling. I’ve competed in a few different mooting competitions this year, and no other competition has come close to having this standard of judges. It makes all the work you put in worthwhile, and is also good fun (at least in retrospect!).
  • You get to go to Vienna for a week!

Cons:

  • Over the course of the year it’s the equivalent of taking on an additional GDL module, and at certain points, such as when you are writing the first memorandum, it can tend to dominate your time. It certainly made my year more stressful, but it didn’t stop me from doing other mooting, pro bono work and mini-pupillages.

What would you consider are the most important skills required of students in this competition?

Time management, commitment, and ability to keep submissions as clear and simple as possible despite the complexity. The competition is fierce and some teams spend, in my opinion, far too much time preparing. However, the teams that do well are not doing anything particularly special. In oral submissions they are very structured, very clear and they know the material by heart.

If you could change one thing in your preparation for the moot, what would it be?

Simplify my oral submissions: reduce them to one or two main points, and try to avoid making complex arguments. The feedback we received in Vienna was that judges did not like our structure and the complexity of our arguments.

How is the Willem C Vis Moot different from other moots you participated in?

It is international. We did compete in a practice international moot, but this was held with English judges in England. In Vienna you will not have any English judges. The arbitrators will be from a variety of backgrounds. We found that what worked well in England did not necessarily work well in Vienna.

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