Hello Mooting Enthusiasts! Let us take you on a journey which was first of its kind in more ways than one. This was the first time an Indian team brought home the trophy of one of the most sought after Moot Court Competitions across the globe. If you don’t know it yet, let us enlighten you about Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition 2016-2017 and introduce you to the winning trio from Gujarat National Law University. Read on as Sujoy Sur, Shikhar Maniar and Manya Oberoi narrate their inspiring and telling story across cities, states, countries and continents.
Our story begins from February, 2016, when the results of the 2nd Intra-Round Moot Court at GNLU were declared. There is a time of about half an hour, provided to the students who clear the round, to decide which National/International Moot one wants to pick individually. The top oral rankings were secured by Shikhar (Ranked 1st) and Manya (Ranked 2nd), while Sujoy secured the top researcher rank. Going by the usual way that things work, all participants tried to discuss with whom they should form a team. The three of us approached each other and somehow it occurred to us that it would be reasonable for us to form a team together for B.R. Swahaney Moot Court Competition, as it would be over by October, 2016 and because Constitutional Law was an interesting area to research in. But the fact that Stetson was the best Moot available and that we were able to form a team of the top ranked people struck us. 5 minutes before allocation, we decided to go for Stetson and 10 minutes later, we walked out of the room with Stetson allocated to us. Our 14-month long journey had begun.
One thing that concerned us was that GNLU had never particularly done well at Stetson. There were a lot of seniors we could approach who could guide us in International Law and mooting in general, but we needed to get someone on board who had lived the journey till the very end. A couple of months passed by and we approached Vinayak Panikkar, who had represented NLU, Jodhpur, at Stetson in 2014 and had made it to the World Finals. Fortunately, for us, we were able to get him on board and our journey kicked into the first gear. Our main preparation started once the University re-opened in July, 2016. We brushed up our International Law as much as we could before the problem released in July.
Vinayak even grilled the oralists on the basics of International Law before he finally agreed to coach us. This preliminary knowledge was important so that we could break down the problem, categorise issues and divide work as soon as it released. It is imperative that you are able to place the problem vaguely in the context of the law on which it is based within a week of the problem release. We researched for a month, but we decided unless and until we put our thoughts out on paper and start drafting the memorandum, all our understanding will be muddled up inside of our heads and our approach will not be coherent enough. Our submission date was November 18, 2016, and by the end of August, 2016, we were not able to come up with even a single draft! This is where Vinayak’s coaching kicked in, as he made us realise that the first draft will need to be improved upon multiple times, and just like the Ship of Theseus, there will be so many changes required in it that nothing of the first draft will remain.
The first thing we did, thereafter, was to make all the possible arguments from both sides, research upon them and put them down in one single document, not caring about the word limit. By 9th September, 2016, we had a 50 page draft ready, addressing all the possible issues. Once the whole expanse of legal arguments is covered, it becomes easier to go into the depths of the arguments. We set weekly deadlines for subsequent drafts. By the first week of October, 2016, we had our 4th draft ready, thus adding substantial depth to the research. One very important aspect of researching is that it need not always be right from the horse’s mouth as far as authorities are concerned, but how we are able to place it in our pleadings and how seamlessly it integrates with the logic of the problem and the facts at hand, should be of utmost concern. Usage of facts is an important aspect that is often ignored by many people while mooting and they place all the importance on only legal research.
Since ours was an Environmental Moot, we made sure we knew in and out about Narwhals, the subject of concern in the Moot Problem. We made sure that when it comes to discussing the issue of ocean fertilization and Narwhals we are able to come up with a logical and easy to understand narrative; something that could be understood by a layman who had read the compromis only once. We had our end semester exams in October, 2016, which did affect our preparations, but we decided that we needed to gel together as a team and to ensure that we spend all our waking hours on this Moot before we go for our India Oral Rounds on 24th November, 2016. Following which, all of us decided to put up in Delhi, and meet at Manya’s house for preparations, as it would be convenient for all the other members. In those 18 days leading up to the memo submission, we improved upon our draft around 10 times and only submitted the 15th draft to the organisers.
Again, we made sure that our draft was not the “end all be all” of our pleadings, and that it would be our oral submissions which would steer us through. You cannot be too reliant on a memorandum as it is a document which is marred by limitations – be it of space, logic, or usage of authorities. Vinayak also actively involved himself in the process of drafting and we submitted our final memo on 18th. In the meanwhile, whenever we got free time, we prepared for our orals, with Sujoy keeping day-to-day records of all the possible questions which we could come up with and all the possible places where we were making a mistake.
By the time we reached Trivandrum for our India rounds, we had around 100 possible such questions which the Judges could ask us. We also invited over many people and gave them our orals, which was important from the point of view that you must be able to convey your arguments across to a broad spectrum of people. We kept two sets of arguments in place, a dumbed down one and a specialised-authority heavy one, depending upon the level of Judges’ involvement and interest.
We reached Trivandrum on 24th November, 2016. The first preliminary round was on 25th November, 2016, with the latter prelim rounds on 26th. On 25th night, there was some short circuit in our room which left us in the dark but that did not deter us from continuously preparing for the big day. We had sufficient internet back up too. We were team SN No. 24.
After the preliminary rounds, the results came out and we were ranked 3rd out of 42 teams! This gave a huge boost to our confidence. One should never underestimate the teams, especially the ones which seem to be the easier teams, as preliminary rounds are very important to gain momentum and are equally important for speakers to gain that necessary confidence. We managed to clear the Octa-finals with ease as well, but quarters was a different ball game altogether.
All top 8 teams were deserving in one way or the other to qualify for world rounds. The team we faced had an impeccable memorandum, but it was the Judges who were the main hurdles to cross. A barrage of questions about minute details, was thrown at us, ranging from salinity of ocean water to the skeletal composition of Narwhals. Its when you face such questions, that you realise the main battle that needs to be won is against the Judges and not really against the opposite team. The quarter finals were at the end of the day and by then we were left exhausted, and in our orals we made a mistake of not focussing on one of the contentions that we had specifically dealt with in the memo, and the Judges tested our thoroughness of it.
After the rounds, we had given up on our hopes to qualify. Hesitatingly, we walked up to the dining room where the results were to be announced. The first team that qualified was NLU, Jodhpur. ILS, Pune, and Symbiosis, Pune, were 2nd and 3rd respectively. We had nearly given up as none of us believed in dramatic anti-climatic possibilities that could be favourable to us. But as soon as the last team was announced, we were shocked, as it was us! No one from our University’s history had ever gone through this and here we were. We were selected for the World Finals to be held in Florida, USA. This took quite a number of days to sink in.
The stage in Florida was at a whole different level. We were happy and satisfied that we had at least made it this far, but the hunger to do a little better each time we entered the moot room still remained. At that stage, everyone is impeccably prepared and it’s only the nuances, including how you answer and the content of your answers, which make you the better team. We also further researched on the finest of all facts mentioned in the problem, with the stack of possible questions coming up to around 200 by the time we hit the shores of U.S.A.
On 29th March, 2017, we had our first preliminary round, with the rest of the 3 preliminary rounds on 30th. We did fairly well in our first 3 rounds but when we faced the University of Philippines in the 4th round, we were able to gauge the depth of the water in which we were swimming. They defeated us in orals as well as memo scores. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Quarters were scheduled for next morning and we were thinking that somehow, it might be the end of our journey. The other team had comprehensively beaten every other team it had faced. But we just focussed on ourselves. Once again, it was the Judge and us, and the other team was merely the third party in the room. We stayed awake all night preparing and beat them, thus qualifying for the Semi-Finals! For the semi-finals, we were up against NLU, Jodhpur, a team that beat us in the Indian semi-finals. They were a brilliant team and it would have been a sweet defeat had we lost that round, but we made it to the finals by a whisker.
In the finals, we were up against the University of Philippines once again. They were an intimidating lot. All 6 of them impeccably dressed in the same attire. The confidence they exuded was that of champions. They were given the option to choose which side they would like to argue on, as they were the top ranked team in the competition till then. They were so confident about both their sides that they had to resort to a coin-toss, for deciding on the same. They chose “Respondents”. We were happy because we had mapped out that the Appellants had usually won the finals at Stetson, more number of times in comparison to the defendants. Another small bit of preparation we guess, which is required, is to be ready for such situations. Strategy is an important part of any competition. By that time, you must be sure of your strengths and weaknesses and there should be no doubt in your mind about such small things. Otherwise it creates unnecessary friction.
We were getting congratulatory messages from our friends and family back in India. The hype was real. But at that stage we did not take it as if we were going to argue in the Finals of World Championship of Stetson in Florida. We just took it as one more round in which we needed to put our best foot forward. When we entered the moot room we were told that one of the Judges in the finals was Professor Will Burns.
A bit of background – right from the time the problem was released, we were curious as to who had drafted the problem. Now there is no way you can officially know that, but you can always make a calculated guess. While preparing, we read multiple papers and books and there was one name we ran into quite frequently – Will Burns. We took a calculated guess that most probably it was he who had drafted the problem and we prepared certain facts and arguments keeping the arguments he had made in his book in mind. It paid off, and how! Our thoroughness with facts helped us a lot; more than our preparation for the law on the subject.
When the organisers announced the runners-up, we were in a state of shock. And doubt. Until we were given the victory globes, it did not feel real. It was one of the biggest wins for India, in mooting, in the recent past, and one of the biggest ever moot wins for our University! The fact that both the oralists also received speaker citations just made it so much better.
Our post victory celebration was in New York, and what a place it was, once we had won the World. 🙂