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Judging International Moot Competitions

May 04, 2022

This Spring, Manan Shishodia LLM’22 served as a judge in two of the largest, most prestigious moot court competitions in the world.

For many law students, participating in moot court competitions is a central component of their law school experience  —  judging them, however, is much less common.

This spring, Manan Shishodia LLM’22 had the somewhat rare opportunity of serving as a judge at both this year’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition and the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot.

“It was truly an honor,” said Shishodia, who was among the youngest people and one of only two Indians to be selected to serve as a judge in Jessup. “It was a great learning experience to learn from practitioners who have been working in this field and judging these competitions for many years.”

Moot Court Competition Basics

Both Jessup and the Vis Moot hold esteemed positions in the world of moot courting.

Jessup is the world’s largest moot court competition, drawing students from approximately 700 different law schools around the globe to compete in a fictionalized dispute heard before the United Nations’ International Court of Justice. Participants in the competition prepare both oral and written arguments to advocate for the applicant and respondent sides of the case.

For Shishodia, an important aspect of the educative value of serving as a judge in the Jessup competition was the chance to delve deeply into the substantive areas of law that made up the legal issues. During this year’s competition, Jessup participants argued a complex case about human rights law and the internet.

“Every legal problem has its own nuanced answers, so whenever a legal problem is given to you, you learn a lot of new issues — you learn a lot about different acts and about the different laws across countries. A key takeaway for me was the knowledge I gained by studying the problem and reading the relevant cases,” Shishodia said.

The Vis Moot centers specifically on issues of arbitration. Students who compete in the Vis Moot must prepare to participate in a contract dispute between two countries that are party to the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods; the contract stipulates an agreement to arbitrate any dispute in the fictional country of Danubia, which itself is a party of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The aim of the competition, broadly, is to empower law students to gain hands-on experience in the ever complex and dynamic world of international arbitration.

Shishodia reflected on the ways in which judging the Vis Moot helped him to expand his knowledge of international arbitration.

“I’ve studied a lot of contract law, but being exposed to this new branch — related to the Convention of International Sale of Goods — really helped me develop a holistic understanding of how international sale of goods takes place,” Shishodia said. “What are the issues that arise? What are the provisions in certain articles that are helpful for parties to either defend their case or argue their case?”

Opportunities for Continuous Learning

The selection processes for judges at these advocacy competitions — particularly Jessup — can be highly discerning. Shishodia believes that his background, combining moot court participation, arbitration, and international law helped him to stand out from other applicants. He was heavily involved in advocacy competitions when he was a student earning his first law degree in his home country of India. Following graduation, he spent one year clerking in the Supreme Court of India, then worked as a lawyer in India, concentrating mostly in construction arbitration and bankruptcy cases. Further, as an LLM student at Penn, Shishodia has worked closely alongside Professor of Law William Burke White as a research assistant.

“Professor Burke White is an authority in international law and investment arbitration, so I am really grateful to him for nurturing my passion,” Shishodia said.

For Shishodia, sitting alongside the other judges — some of whom with over 20 years of legal experience — presented both an incentive to work hard and an opportunity to learn. Even after securing his role, Shishodia knew he had to prepare to do it well, so he studied.

“Sitting on the panel with people who have so much experience can intimidate you at first because these are people who have seen almost everything in that field. I knew that I could definitely learn a lot from the other judges. At the same time, I was well aware that whatever I say must be backed with credibility and thorough research,” Shishodia said. “I was happy that I could navigate through this challenge by preparing myself very well.”

Looking ahead, Shishodia hopes to continue to chart a path in the arbitration field with a position in the U.S. He expects that, no matter where his career takes him, the experience of judging for both Jessup and the Vis Moot have yielded him an enormous benefit, both in expanding his knowledge of international law and arbitration and in practicing approaching legal problems in a balanced, contemplative way that is, in some ways, unique to the role of a judge.

“Lawyers always have a tendency to think of a problem from one angle, but as a judge, it is a very refreshing and a different experience to think of a problem neutrally,” Shishodia said. “It was definitely difficult, simply because my mind is attuned to think in a certain way, but when you hear two convincing arguments from both sides, you have to align your thought process to be neutral, and that is a challenge.”

Learn more about advocacy competition opportunities at the Law School.