Legal eagles soar with the best

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am


Winning the prestigious Willem C. Vis (East) International Commercial Arbitration Moot competition not only helps prepare City University of Hong Kong (CityU) law students to enter the legal profession. It also consolidates the reputation of CityU as the best mooting school in Hong Kong and the region.

'Success in such a high-profile competition emphasises that the knowledge, skills and techniques taught at CityU meet the highest international standards,' says Rajesh Sharma, Assistant Professor at the CityU School of Law, who coached the CityU Moot team. 'Winning brings Hong Kong, the team and CityU international recognition and shows that a team from Hong Kong is as good as any of the Ivey League law schools.'

The CityU team comprised Brar Harprabdeep Singh, Ada Chan Yin-wai, Kirpalani Lavesh Prakash, Jason Lau Chirk-yen and Jessica Chow Yat-sau, with additional coaching assistance provided by Eric Ng Kar-yan, a Juris Doctor student from the CityU law programme.

'Arbitration, supplemented by mediation, is the primary method for settling international commercial and investment disputes. In Hong Kong, arbitration and mediation have become important features of the legal system and are expected to continue growing,' says Sharma.

The team is the first to reach the grand final twice consecutively in the contest's nine-year history. 'Reaching the final in two consecutive years is like climbing Everest, and sets an important benchmark,' Sharma says.

He says CityU provides a substantial platform for students to polish their skills in this field. They can broaden their views at large-scale international conferences and seminars in the field. They are also sent abroad to compete in arbitration competitions to gain practical experience.

Named in honour of a renowned expert in international commercial transactions and dispute settlement procedures, the Willem C. Vis (East) competition is the sister event to the Willem C. Vis Commercial Arbitration Moot held in Vienna, Austria. The goals of both contests are the promotion and study of international commercial arbitration and the training of tomorrow's legal leaders in methods of alternative dispute resolution.

The week-long competition featured 92 international teams. The CityU Moot team faced robust competition from top law schools in universities such as Harvard, La Trobe and Fordham before defeating the University of Houston Law Center in the final.

'Participating in the Moot is an excellent opportunity for law students to test their theoretical education in practice in a prestigious context, involving the greatest names of the profession. The experience our students gain is excellent for building confidence. In the future, they will have the self-assurance to represent clients to the highest standards before judges and senior counsel,' says Sharma, adding that the contest includes real-life processes that closely align with procedures taught in CityU's arbitration masters programme.

The Moot involves a hypothetical contract dispute in international trade arising out of a transaction relating to the sale and purchase of goods under the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods.

Professor Arthur Ellis, CityU Provost, believes mooting exemplifies the university's aspirations. 'The curriculum encourages students to create new knowledge and cultivate it for the benefit of society. Mooting allows them to face real challenges, adapt to new situations and persuade the judges. It builds self-confidence and creativity, and strengthens leadership,' says Ellis.

Contestants have to master language skills, think logically and articulate clearly while providing insights. Law students participate in two separate but equally important phases: the researching and writing of memoranda for both claimant and respondent, and oral arguments based on the memoranda. Both phases are judged by panels of international arbitration experts.

Team member Chow says mooting provides preparation and experience of what a lawyer needs to present the client's case. 'Through practice, we know what our strengths and weaknesses are, so from now on we can work on them and improve in order to be better equipped for the future,' says Chow.

Lau says the experience was a chance to learn the skills needed to carry out research, writing arguments for both sides of the case and presenting arguments orally to a tribunal. 'By participating in the Moot, we are learning what lawyers do on a daily basis,' he says.

Singh also believes the mooting experience has provided him with the skill set essential to becoming a lawyer. Singh, who is considering becoming a barrister, says: 'The best way to convince a tribunal is to engage them as if it's a conversation and not an argument.'

Chan adds: 'I have gained awareness of the importance of knowledge and efficiency, which I am confident will enable me to go much further in the future.'

To further cultivate students' global perspective, CityU School of Law has signed overseas study agreements with two leading universities.

The University of Vienna law school and faculty of law will offer a postgraduate exchange programme leading to a dual master's degree. Students will spend one semester studying at their home university, and the second on the host campus.

Meanwhile, Columbia Law School, at Columbia University in New York, has signed a memorandum of understanding to become a partner institution in CityU's Global Legal Education and Awareness Project.