Moot court: Practicing international commercial arbitration in China

By Jesse Adler

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Vis Moot Court team conducting legal research in the student lounge at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. (Photo credits: Sydney Tucker)

NANJING, China — If you had told me at the beginning of the semester that I would soon be pulling all-nighters analyzing the terms of a sales agreement regarding a delivery of horse semen, I might have questioned your sense of humor.

But when I joined the Vis Moot Court team at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), I was handed a thick PDF printout full of information involving two imaginary countries embroiled in a trade war, and two fictitious horse-breeding companies fighting over the technicalities a contract for the aforementioned horse product. I was then responsible for conducting legal research to speak at the 16th International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition of the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) to be held in Beijing during the third week of November.

“The goal of the Vis Arbitral Moot,” as stated on the Vis Moot website, “is to foster the study of international commercial law and arbitration for resolution of international business disputes.” The HNC, which is not a law school, has supported its student Vis Moot Court teams for almost a decade. Why?

I caught up with Thomas Simon, a professor of international law at the HNC and director of the Vis Moot Court team, to get his perspective. “Oh, it’s very relevant!” Simon said. “Like in most law school programs, while the focus is mostly on public law, there isn’t enough attention paid to private law. And considering that the SAIS brand has a lot to do with international economics, we should really be doing more of this. [Vis Moot Court] is very key to the mission here, and in fact, it really took off because of student demand and student interest.”

This year’s team agrees. While not all of us aspire to become professional lawyers, the team recognizes that the negotiation and research skills gained through the Vis Moot Court program are invaluable to any career. One of the team members who is actually pursuing a legal career has even decided to focus her master’s thesis on the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), which is the international sales treaty that forms the basis for all Vis Moot Court cases.

Vis Moot Court teams at the HNC have historically performed well. After last year’s team achieved a high score at the CIETAC competition in Beijing, it was sponsored by SAIS to attend the final rounds of the international Vis Moot competition in Vienna, Austria. Professor Simon explains, “There’s a ‘David and Goliath’ aspect to it. We’re not a law school, and yet we’re competing against schools that have had far more training than our students have, and we’re able to compete at the highest level. Crucially, SAIS has generously supported international competitions when HNC teams qualify.”

In preparing for the upcoming competition in Beijing, this year’s team has engaged in practice sessions, including one with the law school at Nanjing University. The experience has been equally challenging and rewarding, and there is reason to feel confident about the HNC team’s potential.

Jesse Adler is a HNC Certificate ‘19/SAIS M.A. ‘20 student currently completing his Certificate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before starting at SAIS DC next fall.