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Penn State Law Vis Moot Court Team finds success again in Vienna

The 2018 Penn State Law Vis Moot Court Team reached the elimination Round of 64 in the 25th annual Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition in Vienna.
2018 Penn State Law Vis Team in Vienna

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. –  For the second time in three years, the Penn State Law Vis Moot Court Team advanced out of the General Rounds and into the Round of 64—the start of the elimination rounds—of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition, held last month in Vienna.

Sometimes called the “the Olympics of international trade law,” the Vis Moot brings together law students from around the world for a truly global competition. This year’s contest, the 25th, featured 362 teams from 82 countries. More than 3,000 students, academics, and professionals attend the weeklong competition each year. Penn State Law’s 2016 team advanced to the Round of 32, out of 311 teams competing that year, and the 2017 team received an honorable mention for one of its briefs.

The competition has teams submit briefs and argue for both the claimant and the respondent in a simulated international business dispute. This year’s problem involved a breach of contract claim between two fictional corporations—a manufacturer of baked goods and a gourmet supermarket chain.  

Penn State Law’s 2018 team consists of oralists Alban Dautaj, Kiran Manokaran, Garrett Peterson, Will Sandman, and Martin Souto-Diaz, and coaches Matko Ilić and Seung-Woon Lee. The team’s faculty adviser is Professor and Paul and Marjorie Price Faculty Scholar​ Catherine Rogers, who teaches, lectures, and publishes on commercial arbitration around the world. The team was accompanied in Vienna by Associate Professor of Law Jud Mathews and Assistant Dean of Graduate and International Programs​ Stephen Barnes.

Preparation for this year’s competition began in September, when Penn State Law J.D., LL.M., and S.J.D. students were invited to apply to the team. In early October, shortly after the Penn State Law team was formed, the Vis Moot distributed this year’s problem. Next, the team had to write and submit two briefs, each around 50 pages: for the claimant in December, and the respondent in January. The team spent the rest of the spring semester fine-tuning their 15-minute oral arguments.

Leading up to the start of the competition on March 23, the Penn State Law team held practice arguments in person or via teleconference with more than 30 teams from around the world. Renowned Vis Moot coaches, including Professor Anthony Daimsis of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and Professor Petra Butler of the Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Law visited University Park to offer tips and coaching to the Penn State Law team. Daimsis’ teams at the University of Ottawa have won the Vis Moot a record three times, including the 2017 contest.

Besides the extensive preparation and practice—sometimes up to 70 hours a month—the team credits the diversity of its members as a major component in their successful run this year. The contest requires students to understand both civil and common law perspectives, and with U.S. and international law students on the team, they were prepared and well-versed in both.

“The Vis is as good an educational experience as a student can get in law school—it challenges students to perform at the highest levels as international attorneys on a global stage,” said Mathews. “This team pushed, and pushed, and pushed. They were reformulating and rephrasing their arguments after each round—improving them up to and including the night before the elimination rounds.”

The Vis Moot experience provides more than just global practice experience—it forms bonds among the team that will last a lifetime.

“The best decision I have made in law school has been to join this team,” said Sandman. “We’re a family now. I have made a lot of friends in law school, but spending so much time with this group over the past year and then traveling to Vienna together—we have a bond now that no one else can understand.”

Students interested in joining the Penn State Law Vis Moot team should contact Professor Catherine Rogers at car36@psu.edu.

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