Monday, April 11, 2011

Speaking at Vis, some FAQs, some common errors and some tips

The battle in Hong Kong is over and the bigger fight is about to start in Vienna. A lot of participants have been mailing me from several universities asking for last minute tips. Here are a few questions that I have been asked by the participants and my answers to them.

Tip 1: Take tips with a pinch of salt.

Recently, in one of my oral rounds at Jessup international, one of the judges narrated an experience he had as a young Jessup mooter. He had a small book in which he used to keep track of all the feedback he got after each court. Towards the end, he realised that almost everything tip in that book was countered by another tip in the same book. 

Judges, like participants in these moots, are drawn from a wide range of jurisdictions and what each of them is accustomed to as ideal court craft is therefore bound to be different. This means, that in a moot like Jessup or Vienna there is no one accepted style and a multitude of styles are not just tolerated, but encouraged. This would become clearer if one compared and contrasts the styles of Sebastian Machado and Kartikeya Tanna, both successful oralists featuring in the training videos release by Jessup organisers. Unfortunately, there is no such video for Vis. But trust me on this, diversity of styles is a part and parcel of Vis. Therefore, it is futile to imitate any speaker or any speaking style.

2. Do accents matter?

A lot of people are often dissuaded from mooting by the fear that their accents may not be the best in an international context. I speak with a very pronounced Malayalee accent [if you are not familiar with the Malayalee accent, you can just google for "Mallu jokes"] and was initially advised that I should focus on national moots and not attempt international moots on this account. But in a place like Vis or Jessup, where you hear a variety of accents from all parts of the world, it is not important to speak with a British or American accent. Many people may not be aware that some moots even permit participants to speak in their native tongue with the help of an interpretor.

However, it is extremely important that every judge and every opponent understands every bit of what you say. For this, given the diversity of backgrounds and accents, it is advisable that a slower pace than usual is adopted. This is important even for native English speakers as the judges may not be native English speakers.

3. What happens before the start of an argument in Vis?

Before the start of a round, the names of all the judges for the round are published on the top most floor of the Juridicum. It is important to know who the judges are, and accordingly make adjustments to strategies [It is important to know what your judge had for breakfast!].

It is important to arrive at the venue a bit earlier than the start of the argument. This allows the two teams sufficient time to discuss between themselves the order in which the speakers will argue. Also, an exchange of visiting cards at this time will help in getting to the friendly, yet professional, mood that Vis requires. Moreover, this exchange of cards and getting to know people is one of the best parts of Vis.

While deciding the order in which parties are to speak, please remember not to be too stubborn. In case of lack of an agreement, the arbitrator are most likely to follow the order of Respondent Jurisdiction, Claimant Jurisdiction, Claimant Merits, Respondent Merits.

4. Once the arbitrators enter:

Once the arbitrators enter, each team takes turns to go to their table, introduce themselves by name and hand over business cards. After that, the arbitrators will ask the participants if they have arrived at an agreement on the order of speaking. If they have not, then the arbitrators proceed to tell the teams how to proceed.

5. Should I cite authorities while speaking?

Knowledge of law is certainly an important criterion in Vis, just like in any other moot. So, if you know the law, show that you know it. But Vis, unlike other moots, is an arbitration. So an impression that you are giving legal authorities to cover up for your lack of logic or unreasonability of your arguments may cost you heavily. Therefore, moderation needs to be exercised in citing authorities.

While citing authorities, it is advisable to pay heed to the diversity factor and cite authorities from different jurisdictions and different sources. It is to be borne in mind that while Common Law judges will attach a lot of value to precedents, authors find more favour with the Civil Law judges.

6. Time management

There is no time keeper or bailiff in Vis. The teams are required to time themselves. It is advisable to have time cards that one of the team members can slide across the table to the person who is speaking. However, this should be done in a non-distracting manner.

7. Should I thank a judge for a question?

Recently, I saw a continental European team appearing against me in Jessup telling an American judge phrases like "Thank you for that question", "It is a very important question", etc. The second time this was said, the judge snapped, "I know it is a good question. Otherwise I would not have asked". Later, I was told that in Continental Europe, it would be considered rude to not thank a judge for a question whereas an American or British judge would consider it a time-wasting frill. 

My suggestion is, decide whether to thank the judge for a question based on where s/he is from. But, never take it to the extend of complimenting a judge as the judge is there to judge you, not to be judged by you.

8. Rebuttals:

I have seen many teams repeating their entire argument in rebuttals. This is a colossal waste of the rebuttal time. Pick very few, yet very important, points which if rebutted will bring down the opponent's entire case.

9. Sur-rebuttals:

It is a non-transgressable norm that sur-rebuttals should only respond to the rebuttals. They should be extremely pointed and should answer the rebuttals adequately. Sometimes, it may be the best to waive a sur-rebuttal saying that the rebuttal raised no point that has not been dealt with in the course of your main submissions.

10. Merits speaker as a story-teller

This is perhaps, the most important thing to be kept in mind. Vis is not about showing that legal authorities support your claims better than they support the other party's. It is a dispute between two businesses and resonability and commercial prudence play important roles here. So, instead going down a confrontation path armed legal authorities, it is important, especially for the merits speakers to narrate an interesting and convincing story from the perspective of their client.

I wish all the participants all the very best for the moot. If there are any more questions that remain unanswered, please drop a comment.


  1. Stunning outline, Deepak. I have mostly mooted at the national level and helped teams in devising strategies for numerous corporate law moots. I have noticed that the art of narrating the law in the same way as a story-teller would carries tremendous importance on the national circuit as well!

  2. Which are the best and the worst teams participating at the Vis Moot? Is there any ranking?

  3. There is no ranking as such, but a perusal of the moot website, where the award winners are listed, will give you a good indication.


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