Monday, April 20, 2009

Touro Finishes Ninth
in the World at International Vis Moot

The following is Professor Jack Graves' description of Touro Law Center's Moot Court Team's efforts at this year's Vis Moot Court Competition in Vienna:

A team of Touro students participated again this year in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna, Austria. This year, student teams representing 233 law schools from 59 countries met in Vienna for this prestigious event. The actual Moot was held in Vienna from April 3 through 9, though the Touro team's participation also included "pre-moot" events in Belgrade, Serbia, and Zagreb, Croatia, on the way to Vienna. Throughout every step of this journey, the performance of the Touro team was outstanding, and students, faculty, and practitioners from around the globe took notice.

This year, Touro was represented by four students: Sardar Asadullah, Han Sheng Beh, James Lucarello, and Benjamin Noren. This group was, without a doubt, the "deepest" I have ever coached in the Moot. As we moved through our practices here in New York, followed by the pre-moots in Eastern Europe, each developed into an outstanding individual and team performer, and I would have been happy to put any two of them on the final stage in Vienna for the world to see.

As with last year, the pre-moot in Belgrade was a particularly strong one (last year, three of the top four teams came through Belgrade, and last year's winner Carlos III, Madrid, also joined the group this year [Ed. Note: Touro came in second last year]), and by the close of the event, it was clear that the Touro team, along with those from Zagreb (Croatia) and Victoria, Wellington (New Zealand) were among the "teams to beat" in Vienna. From Belgrade, we continued on to Zagreb, where we joined the teams from the University of Zagreb and the University of Pittsburgh in final practices and preparations for Vienna.

We arrived in Vienna on April 2 and participated in one final pair of practices rounds on the 3rd with Loyola (Chicago), arbitrated by the two team coaches and chaired by one of the Moot's legendary figures, Bruno Zeller (an Australian law professor whose article on a model law to govern carbon trading is being published in the Touro Law Review). All four team members performed brilliantly, and were ready to for the start of "the real thing" the next day.

Throughout the four preliminary rounds on Saturday through Tuesday, the guys were absolutely brilliant. Each pair (Asadullah/Lucarello and Beh/Noren) argued once on each side of the case. When they had completed their final preliminary round on Tuesday, I was more convinced than I have ever been that this team had absolutely made the elimination rounds. As it turned out, that confidence made my life much easier Tuesday evening. The elimination round pairings are announced in the form of a bracket (a la "March madness" NCAA bracket style), but the seeds are not announced so the order of the team announcements is very random. By the time they passed 50 teams (out of a total of 64 teams that made the elimination rounds from among the 233 total participating) and still had not announced Touro, the guys were getting a bit nervous, but at the 61st slot (again, this has nothing to do with seeding, which I am sure was far higher) they finally heard "Touro Law Center" announced, and we headed out for a brief dinner celebration before what we hoped would be a long Wednesday in the elimination rounds.

As a unique element of the Moot, Wednesday at the Dachgeschoss (it's on the top floor of the Juridicum [or school of law] at the University of Vienna, where the Moot is held) is hard to truly understand without being there. However, it's worthy of at least an attempt to describe the extraordinary level excitement that permeates the place on Wednesday of the Moot. For 32 teams, this process actually starts on Tuesday night after the announcements (there is only space for 32 teams to argue at a time, so half of the 64 team bracket begins Tuesday night, while the other half begins on Wednesday morning at 8 AM). However, Touro's half of the round of 64 began early Wednesay morning. Thus, you have teams and coaches from 32 law schools, along with 48 arbitrators (at this stage the quality of the arbitrators begins to reach a pretty elite group) all gathering at the Dachgeschoss. At the end of each round, the chair of a given panel of arbitrators walks out into the center of this circle of students, coaches, and other arbitrators, where he or she announces the winner of the round. Temporary bedlam ensues, as one team predictably celebrates and the other mourns, and the celebrants quickly begin to get ready for the next round (there is typically about an hour between the announcement and next round). In theory, this can go 4 rounds on Wednesday (as it did last year for Matt and Lena, who argued in every round).

In the first elimination round, Sardar Asadullah and Ben Noren argued, as Claimant, against the team from McGill University (Canada). With no disrespect to the McGill team, it wasn't close. Sardar and Ben were simply awesome, putting in their best round to date and the arbitrators predictably reached the same conclusion, unanimously choosing Touro as the winner of the round. The second elimination round (the round of 32) progressed in a similar manner, with Han Sheng Beh and James Lucarello arguing, as Respondent, and solidly defeating the team from the University of Muenster (Germany). So far, all had gone just about perfectly, and each team member had enjoyed the experience of arguing in the Dachgeschoss on Wednesday and then hearing "Touro" announced as the winner of the round.

By the round of 16, only 3 U.S. law schools remained: Columbia, Tulane, and Touro. We knew that the competition was going to stiffen considerably. Touro was paired against the University of Victoria, Wellington (New Zealand)a school with an outstanding program of mooting and a very strong record in the Vis Moot (a 2nd place and a 3rd place in the past 5 years). This was the same school that Matt and Lena beat last year in the semi-finals, so they also knew they'd drawn a tough opponent for this round. The round was predictably well argued and predictably close. When it was over, I told the team I thought it was essentially a coin flip. Unfortunately, the coin landed on the other side, and the Victoria, Wellington team moved on to the round of 8 (the 4th of the Wednesday rounds). We were not at all surprised to see Victoria, Wellington find its way to the final stage the next day and win the team oral rounds. While losing is never fun, it definitely removes a bit of the sting to know you lost only to the best in the Moot.

So, when all was said and done, Touro had finished tied for 9th in the world (with 7 other teams falling in the round of 16) out of 233 law schools from 59 countries and tied from 2nd in the U.S. (with Columbia, behind only Tulane, which fell in the round of 8). James Lucarello also received an individual award, recognizing him as one of the best in the world, for his oral argument scores in the preliminary rounds.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the combination of outstanding performances by Touro students in this event over the past 2 years (2nd and 9th in the world, with half of the team members winning individual awards). In this relatively short time, Matt, Lena, Sardar, Sheng, James, and Ben have garnered the attention of the world of international commercial arbitration such that the mention of our law school in this context now evokes an expectation of outstanding professional international advocacy. Few of these people knew anything about Touro before we became involved in the Moot. Now, they all know a good deal, and it is all very positive.

I hope to see another strong group of Touro students "step up to the plate" again next year to defend this honor and further develop Touro's reputation as a school that is serious about training and developing commercial lawyers and advocates who will excel in today's ever growing international commercial law community.

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