This article was submitted to Ergo by Swini Khara, a student of the Batch of 2021 at the NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad
When you start college at an NLU, you are a thrilled law student who wants to explore and take up almost every opportunity your law school provides you with. It is your first day at college and you are buzzing with excitement when you hear the words ‘moot court’ for the first time in a conversation at the mess table. As the day progresses, you interact with your seniors who glorify the activity to an extent that you can barely control your enthusiasm and fancy to do a moot before you even understand what a memorandum means. As your first semester progresses, you hear your batch mates boasting about how they were selected as an ‘observer’ for a senior team or the number of moots they plan to do in the coming year. NALSAR aptly uses the term ‘enthu cutlets’ to describe the new population and their tendency to leap at every prospect of decorating the ‘CV’ with cups and laurels.
You are soon made to understand the ‘ideal’ strategy of starting off your mooting career with smaller domestic moots to gear you up for participating in international moots in your later years. This is the tradition commonly followed in NLUs across India. At NALSAR, breaking that tradition brought me and my team a few frowning seniors and faculty members. It is not untrue that one must have some experience before taking up international moots but no one can stop you from dreaming big. Despite doing fairly well in the introductory moot in the first semester, I had almost sworn to myself to not moot for the remainder of my law school life but somehow I ended up with a crazy dream and an equally ambitious team.
We were just a bunch of first years and had only studied torts, when we took up a moot on Maritime Law. We knew it was going to be a tough journey compared to the other teams but we were up for it. Starting from square one, it took ten times the effort required to build our basics in commercial arbitration, contracts and maritime law. It took us quite a long time to completely understand the problem and its complexities. The moot scenario was a hundred page bizarre compilation of lengthy agreements and emails with pitiful texting language featuring zombies on a train (a clear reference to the 2016 thriller, A Train to Busan). The problem was wholly inspired from a real life dispute of Five Ocean Corp v Cingler Ship settled by Belinda Ang J who was invited to judge the finals for IMLAM 2017. The framers of the problem had turned the already complex case into an unsolvable puzzle only adding to our troubles.
NALSAR has a system of organizing an internal quality control round before allowing any team to represent the college at a moot. Clearing the round was not easy for us either. The faculty did not trust the sincerity of a team comprising of three first years and believed the potential trip to Singapore as a little ‘holiday’ for us. They were adamant on setting the bar higher than usual in order to prevent a bunch of inexperienced individuals from ruining the college’s reputation. However, after forgetting life outside the library, countless breakdowns and sleepless nights, we had made it through. We were finally going to Singapore. The excitement and happiness was uncontainable.
Most colleges have coaches or faculty members who encourage and support teams by helping them clear their basics in the respective field of law or even help framing arguments. We did not have such facilities but some very diligent seniors who believed in us and helped us out in structuring our arguments and improving style. We had submitted the memo but the real struggle was framing the perfect speech. Figuring out what was to be argued and bringing out the formal tone in our speech took some work. The credit for polishing our speech goes to our seniors at NALSAR for taking practice rounds with varied difficulty levels.
We arrived at the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus on the morning of June 28 where we had taken our accommodation. The hostel had rooms and facilities which you could only wish for in any Indian college. We interacted with a few teams from University of Queensland, Malaysia, NLUO and others who lived in the neighbouring rooms. I remember feeling a bit intimidated as most of them were final year students but we went ahead to be great friends with them. We spent two days trying to fix problems with our compendium which included running around shady streets in Singapore looking for printing shops. The tale is no different from any other mooting team’s disaster story but we manage to have a good laugh every time we recall this experience.
Our first draw was against the University of Hong Kong (HKU) which was definitely going to be a tough round. We were Respondents for the round which gave us a slight edge as the problem leaned towards Respondents. It was the first round of my first moot ever and I had butterflies fluttering in my stomach when their counsel started crushing every single argument I was about to make. A mere fifteen second read of our skeleton arguments gave him all the ammunition he needed to tear up my arguments, crumple them in his fists and throw them into the bin (figuratively, of course). My throat closed up. He kept alleging that I was not going to make an important submission when the arbitrator stopped him and asked me if that was true. ‘No, madam arbitrator’, I choked. As he continued his flawless arguments without flustering, I hurriedly scribbled on a sticky note all the points I had to counter and ended up giving a speech entirely different from my draft. This is the normal way of mooting but you cannot expect a first year to know this.
During my speech, I made a few remarks which probably won me a few points. One was when he alleged the absence of evidence to prove the congestion at some ports to which I replied the absence of evidence for existence of zombies. It is not a great story but I had the arbitrators laughing. The second time was when I used HKU’s own compendium against them which really impressed the arbitrators as I was told in the feedback. Surprisingly, we won the round. We had no expectations of winning but the win served as a major boost for our coming rounds. As intimidated I was by the opposing counsel, we have become great friends and have remained in constant touch ever since (also, turns out he is an academic from Oxford and is now a professor).
Next, we were up against Universidad Carlos III de Madrid when we faced an extremely tough panel. That was the round when the opposing counsel started crying after being grilled by one of the arbitrators. It was heartbreaking to see her trying her best to answer the questions asked but at the same time I was joyous to win the round. We faced NUJS, Kolkata in the next round where we were arguing for Claimants for the first time. It was not the best of our performance as we lost, but the feedback was valuable in helping us gear up for the next round. Our last preliminary round was against NLUO which we won. Their counsels were great orators but they wasted twelve minutes arguing something which was not an issue to be argued. Hence, a win was expected though we hadn’t performed with the best of our abilities.
We were tremendously tired and returned to the hostel not expecting to qualify for the quarter-finals. We were satisfied with our performance so far and wanted no more of it. Hence, we did not wait back for the announcement of results. We were hogging on the best spaghetti pasta we had in days when our new friend from NUJS texted us that we qualified. We did not believe her until we saw the official announcement on IMLAM’s twitter account. We shrieked with joy in middle of the restaurant and hugged each other, not caring about the hundred eyes staring at us. We were the only Indian team to qualify and were ranked above few of the greatest teams at IMLAM.
Next morning, we were present in the moot room for our final round against NUS, the team which went ahead to be the ultimate winner. They handed over to us their two volume compendium. It was the most beautiful and the most organized compendium I would ever see in my mooting career. They were two huge burgundy coloured leather files with volume numbers written on the top in gold. A glance at our compendium immediately made me question how did we get so far? We had no expectations of winning, but I recall that round as our best performance in the competition.
We spent our remaining time exploring Singapore, visiting the Universal Studios and Clark Quay, shopping in the streets of Bugis and going clubbing with our new friends from other universities. Apart from the mooting experience, there are countless stories about losing key card and getting access to restricted areas with the new one, almost losing a phone, internal fights, struggling to find vegetarian food, getting into wrong Uber cabs and getting lost in a book store.
It definitely was not an achievement deserving a 1710 word essay but it was one experience I will keep recalling in the years to come. It was an important accomplishment for me as it helped me deal with my internal conflict and prove myself to all those who were skeptical about us deviating from the common trend. Mooting is a great learning experience which helps you explore different fields of law in depth which your curriculum probably does not cover. Apart from that, you will make friendships that last forever. I would conclude by saying that don’t be afraid to dream a bit bigger and work towards what you believe in. It will bring you the happiness you seek.
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