GNLU · Mooting · Reflections

Four Takeaways from the ELSA WTO Moot Court Competition: GNLU

Meera Manoj is currently a third-year law student at Gujarat National Law University. Her team won the Asia Pacific Rounds of the ELSA WTO Moot Court Competition last year and were World Quarter-Finalists. She won the Best Speaker citation in Semi-Finals and was the second-best speaker in Prelims of the Asia Pacific Rounds. Her teammate, Rushal won the Best Speaker Finals, Asia Pacific Rounds and Best Speaker, Prelims, World Rounds.

“Hey Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore” -Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz.

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If I thought my first year of law school was tumultuous and overwhelming, it was a mere taste of what was in store in the second year. I was to be pulled into the complex and passionate world of mooting and was to feel as out of my depth as Dorothy did when a cyclone whisked her house away.

Intra round moot allocations in GNLU are a highly politicised affair, which is part time amusing and part time frustrating. The administration, to the best of their abilities, ensures that there is a limited one-hour window between publication of ranks and allotment of moots. Yet this one hour does little to account for the previous 3 weeks of planning and scheming, testing permutations and combinations of who to moot with and who to intimidate if they get a good intra rank. I remember standing with my friend, tremulously confident that with his Rank 1 and my Rank 3 we would find a good team. Yet, we watched in disbelief as the hour slipped away, unable to form a team or do any of the moots in our first preference. Poor Toto and I had left Kansas, a mile behind us.
It was around the last ten minutes of the precious one hour when the ELSA team happened. In the months to come I was to learn some of my hardest lessons and paradoxically experience some of my happiest moments.

Here are my four biggest take-aways from the moot:

1. Self-confidence wins half the battle 

From the day I did my first moot I have listened to a constant barrage of reductions. Mooting is difficult. Mooting as a girl, much more so. My entire first year involved a futile back-breaking effort of proving that one’s gender and appearance cannot be used as weapons to diminish and annihilate moot performances. ELSA was my first time as a speaker. It did not help that I was the youngest and most inexperienced in the team, a fact I was constantly reminded of during the rounds. It was Rushal, my co-speaker who helped me gain confidence in myself. He was immensely supportive, flexible and understanding. He encouraged me to find my own style and space as a speaker which I did, over several sleepless nights, missed classes, sacrificed internships and even days of exam preparation.
Validation can come in many forms. Curiously, I found mine a month after winning the Asia -Pacific rounds. I had just received poor feedback from an external person during a practice round and our ordinarily reserved coach, Shivansh Jolly indignantly protested that my speaking style was above criticism.
This silly, inexperienced girl spent the whole day smiling.

2. Accept criticism 

ELSA taught me to accept criticism and work on it. When I started practicing as an Oralist there was immense room for improvement. Foolish questions annoyed me. Clever questions frightened me. To top it off, easy questions made me stammer as I helplessly wondered whether they were all careful traps laid out to ruin me. This is when I started incorporating feedback from nearly everyone – students, alumni, professors, professionals and even those from my mother, who has never entered a courtroom but whose words have the perception and confidence to make a grown lawyer cry.

3. Risks pay off 

If there is a bold, outlandish argument that you think no one will raise, but which you cannot break, then run it by all means. For the Asia-Pacific rounds, I was undecided on which approach to take – the obvious, safe yet, what I believed to be a flawed approach or the risky, terrifyingly novel argument which I had come up with one day before our rounds and which appeared unbreakable from every dimension. Rushal told me he trusted me enough to pull off both. Four hours before the Preliminary rounds I decided to run the second one. And I ran it, through all 7 rounds, from Singapore to Geneva, before WTO division heads to academicians, and the argument held its own, unique and strong, without a crack or a crevice. Takeaway: If you can’t break the argument, just run it, no matter what.

4. Back-check, Back-check, Back-check!

The most important lesson I learnt is to back-check, not only my own work but even of those on the team.
Often after working on the same problem for several months, a sense of false complacency sets in. The argument that you’ve run for 9 months seems like the closest thing to infallible, right? Wrong. My most solid argument was shattered two weeks before we left for Geneva by a discerning alumnus. I went back then, from the start and after 3 days of nerve-wracking work emerged shakily with an answer. However, more importantly, we found the all-consuming drive to sit for hours together savagely attacking each argument and each presumption from all angles till they held up, as close to unbreakable as we could make them.
Another aspect of back-checking is one that is not generally openly acknowledged, that of back-checking the work of all those on the team. Every mooter has their own anecdotes of let-downs when it comes to relying on the work of others. ELSA too, gave Rushal and I our fair share of these anecdotes. The team should continuously back-check whether work is getting done and if it is truly accurate. Feedback gained from such exercises should be used to divide work. Ensure that commitment and capabilities are taken into account while splitting work.

However, a word of comfort: The outcome of such back-checking is not always unfortunate. It can be an important means to build trust among team members.

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Hey Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. Or Singapore. Or Geneva. But we were and I want to be again, to go everywhere and see everything. Mooting season has come around and I am faced with my annual dilemma of whether to moot or not. The sacrifices that accompany mooting are daunting- internships, exams, spending time with family and friends or just lazing around- all take a rapid pummelling. But then I think of ELSA and decide that there are some trade-offs you embrace, and plunge into the murky world of mooting headfirst.

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