Inaugural Michigan Law team competes in prestigious Vis Moot

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

Michigan Law recently sent its first-ever team to compete in the 25th annual Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna. More than 360 teams from 82 countries participated in the prestigious competition, whose goal is to foster the study of international commercial law and arbitration.

The Law School’s Vis team was composed of seven 1Ls: Andrew Bulovsky, Shane Callaghan, Lindsay Wardlaw, Fiona Gaul, Robby Turner, McKenzie Southworth, and Lixin Lin. They began preparing for the brief-writing portion of the competition last October, when the legal problem was distributed to participants. The problem focused on a contract dispute between companies in two fictional countries.

The students collectively researched case law and arbitration principles to draft their claimant and respondent briefs, which were submitted in December and January, Wardlaw said. Each brief was approximately 35 pages—no small task for 1Ls who had yet to master Contracts and other first-year courses. “Thirty-five pages spread over seven researchers seems quite manageable,” Wardlaw noted, “but this year our team faced an unusual boot-up hurdle: Because our team was composed only of 1Ls, we were just taking Contracts at the time that we started to draft our first memorial and none of us had yet taken Arbitration. Two of our team members had not even written their first briefs for Legal Practice at that stage.”

In true Michigan fashion, the students had plenty of help. Professor Julian Davis Mortenson, who previously worked as an arbitrator, served as the Vis team’s faculty sponsor. He helped the students frame their arguments for both sides of the problem, and he provided feedback on the briefs during the drafting process. Mortenson—along with Professors Timothy Dickinson, Bruce Frier, Mathias Reimann, Steve Ratner, and Beth Wilensky—also held practice moots for the students to help them prepare for oral arguments in Vienna, which were held in March. In addition, the team received financial support from Michigan Law’s Center for International and Comparative Law.

“Our team did very well, and faced off against teams from Poland, China, Russia, and Brazil,” said Bulovsky, who was one of five team members to serve as oralists at the Vis Moot. “There were approximately 1,500 oralists competing, and it was interesting to hear the different legal perspectives from people all over the world. There was a lot of energy as we participated in each round of the competition.”

Wardlaw, who also was an oralist, added: “It was amazing to receive feedback from practicing arbitrators from both common law and civil systems. That kind of individualized advice—like the comments we received in practice rounds here at Michigan—will be priceless as we enter practice.”

Bulovsky, who is interested in arbitration as a career, said the Vis Moot was a great experiential learning opportunity, one that enhanced what he learned in the classroom. He’s looking forward to competing on a Vis team again, if given the chance, particularly since the Vis Moot has a Michigan connection: It was started by alumnus Eric Bergsten, ’56, who is now president of the competition.

As for Mortenson, he couldn’t be prouder of the Vis team he helped to coach. “My hat goes off to the students,” he said. “I commend them for their dedication, initiative, and enthusiasm, and for becoming experts in the particular problem they were tasked with. The best part for me was seeing them in moot practices and how much mastery they had gained over the problem.”