Pitt law students help counterparts at Arab universities prepare for international moot court
University of Pittsburgh professor Ronald Brand, back center, and Pitt students join students from seven Middle-Eastern universities at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman last month.
Final round of the moot arguments.
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The University of Pittsburgh still has one team with aspirations to make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond this year in the brackets -- at the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot competition in Vienna, Austria.
Pitt's past success in Vienna means that Ronald Brand, the director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for International Legal Education, is the last coach standing at the university with a chance to bring home a title this year (no offense to the College Basketball Invitational).
But unlike the basketball coaches, Jamie Dixon and Agnus Berenato, Mr. Brand is using his senior competitors to train the opposition, rather than beat them.
At Pitt's law school, second-year students can qualify to be part of the moot -- that is, extracurricular -- arbitration team. The team members travel to Vienna to compete against hundreds of teams from all over the world in presenting a moot commercial case to a prestigious international arbitration panel.
Mr. Brand's best ever showing was getting his team to the Sweet 16, but the competition, which will be held this year from Friday to April 5, is just part of the picture for the Pitt team.
Over the years, team members previous years have been traveling to the Middle East to work with students from Arab universities to help them train for the competition.
Last month, three members of the 2011 team were in Muscat, Oman, at Sultan Qaboos University, where they worked with law students from that university and from six others: University of Bahrain, University of Baghdad, University of Jordan, United Arab Emirates University and Qatar University.
Kimberly Stains, of Altoona, one of the third-year students who traveled to Oman to coach others, said in her report on the experience that the prospect of preparing seven Middle-Eastern teams was nerve wracking.
"I was so nervous that I could barely eat my breakfast that first morning in Muscat," she wrote.
Then she went in to meet the teams: "It took one glance to know that the teams were even more nervous than we were."
Students from the other teams were not just learning how to present an oral argument to a panel of arbitrators -- they would also be arguing in English, which was a second language for them.
The Pitt students who traveled to Oman learned about international arbitration by taking part in the competition last year. But they got an even better lesson by teaching others how to present an argument to the panel.
They started working with their Middle-Eastern counterparts by email. They talked about the case being presented and how to craft memorandums for the judges. By the time they met face-to-face in Oman, they already knew their students by electronic communications.
In Oman, they were able to sit down and work on oral arguments.
"They become skilled lawyers in this field because, not only can you do it, you can teach it," Mr. Brand said.
While in the Middle East, the seven teams had a small competition, which they called a pre-moot, to practice for the Vienna competition.
The student advisers from Pitt were concentrating on just two of those teams, while the other five teams were from schools that had worked with Pitt in previous years. Former Middle-Eastern team members and their professors then taught their school's students the next year, so the program is self-sustaining.
"You know it is a success when they don't need you anymore," Mr. Brand said.
In the big picture, he said the program is training students from the Middle East in international law, which will make trading with those countries easier in the future.
And for the students involved, it helps them develop their skills as international lawyers.
"You don't go into this to win the competition," Mr. Brand said. "You go into it to be a better lawyer."
First Published March 26, 2012 12:00 am