For the past several years, I have had the pleasure to act as a practice judge for Marquette University Law School’s Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition (Jessup) team. It is a truly enjoyable experience and I am always impressed by the competitors’ level of knowledge, talent, and dedication.
If you are interested in international law, and interested in helping the next generation of Wisconsin’s international lawyers, I highly recommend volunteering.
According to its website, the Jessup competition is the world’s largest moot court competition, and the oldest competition dedicated to international law. It is open to law schools from all over the world. Each school can have one team, and those teams compete against one another in written pleadings, called “memorials,” and oral argument.
The competition is built around the Compromis, a set of facts that addresses a timely issue of public international law in the context of a hypothetical dispute between nations. This hypothetical dispute is submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the primary judicial organ of the United Nations, for adjudication. Each team prepares two written memorials and presents two 45-minute oral arguments, one for each side of the dispute (“Applicant” and “Respondent”). The competition simulates a proceeding before the ICJ.
The Competition: The Kobayashi Maru and Disputability
The 2017 Compromis involved a dispute between the fictional nations the Clans of Atan and the Kingdom of Rahad, neighboring countries in an arid land with a shared cultural history. Without going into many details here, the Compromis involved the depletion of a non-renewable shared aquifer by one of the two states, danger to a UN World Heritage Site, food insecurity leading to a large population to flee and assert they are refugees, the repression of cultural minorities, and the theft of cultural property.
These characterizations are my own, based upon my recollection, and the students who were neck-deep in the Compromis for months, and spent arguments honing the arguments for one side or the other, will likely (and rightly) dispute some of them.
This disputability is one of the best things about the Jessup competition. It is like the Kobayashi Maru test of Star Trek fame – the Compromis always presents multiple no-win situations, or at least situations where each side has a colorable argument. The test (at least for a volunteer practice judge) is to see how the students react, how they handle the facts that are contrary to their positions, how convincingly they argue that the ICJ should rely on what state is a provision of customary international law. And it is so much fun.
A 'Wonderful Experience'
For the 2017 Jessup competition, the Compromis was released in September 2016. The parties’ memorials were due on Jan. 13, 2017. The Midwest Regional Rounds was held in Chicago in February, and the final Jessup Cup World Championship Round was held just this month.
I did my practice round in February. If you are interested in volunteering to be a practice judge (and I hope you are!), expect to be needed in January or February of a given year.
It is a wonderful experience. If you are an international law nerd like me, there are few more enjoyable ways to spend a February evening than helping local law students hone their oral advocacy skills, while at the same time being impressed with their dedication and the depth of their knowledge of international law.