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Friday 14 April 2023 12:04pm

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New Zealand's competing team Josef Strauss and Lydia Joseph. Not pictured is Rebecca Bridgman, joining the duo as counsel.

A team of three students from Otago's Te Kaupeka Tātai Ture Faculty of Law are in Washington DC this month to compete in the world's largest moot court competition.

Josef Strauss and Lydia Joseph won the national final at Auckland's High Court, gaining the presumptive right to compete on the international stage at the 2023 Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.

Fellow student Rebecca Bridgman, also a finalist in the Otago moot competition, joins them as team researcher and counsel at the table.

The prestigious Jessup Moot Competition hosts participants from approximately 700 law schools in 100 countries and jurisdictions.

A moot court competition is a hypothetical case, usually simulating an appeal against a final decision. In the Jessup Moot Competition students are given a simulation of a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the judicial organisation of the United Nations. Teams prepare oral and written pleadings arguing both the applicant and respondent positions of the case.

“The skills for mooting are improvisation and being confident and being able to express complex things in simple ways. There's also a lot of preparation behind the scenes,” says Joseph.

To illustrate how dense this competition is, the team prepared their written submissions, called memorials, of about 30,000 words over the summer. Now, they need to distil those memorials into 22-minute presentations.

“The kind of law we are being exposed to, that is international law, is incredibly complex and this has been invaluable in teaching me how to tackle large legal issues. International law is so broad, which has been a little daunting, but it also gives a lot of freedom and scope for enjoyment in constructing creative legal arguments,” says Bridgman. 

Strauss says these Moot competitions are the most intellectually challenging thing that he's had to do at university: “There is also a degree of improvisation and EQ – it's like a conversation with the judge, you have to read them and communicate with them, you can't be completely robotic. It combines hardnose intellectual tasks and that other area, which is quite cool.”

Strauss says he first got into mooting to challenge his own fears: “I originally got into mooting because I was terrified of improvisational public speaking. I watched my first ever law tutor competing, and I was in awe. I thought it looked terrifying but then realised it would be cool to be able to do that. I tried it as a junior and got knocked out in first round and kept going, and it's been really fun.”

Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Shelley Griffiths says, “Our three mooters are extremely talented young people. We are very proud of the effort they have put in together with the work of Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere and Dr Lucas Clover Alcolea, who is the coach travelling with them. It is a special moment that they compete on the world stage at the same time as we celebrate 150 years of Law at Otago.”

Associate Professor Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere is the moot convenor for the University. He says Jessup is the “Olympics of moot competitions” and this is an incredible achievement for the team.

“This is the product of countless hours of hard and dedicated work. There's a reason why mooters tend to do so well within their legal careers afterwards because there's a lot of dedication and hard work that goes into the process, and it's really nice to see it paying dividends here,” Associate Professor Rodriguez Ferrere says.

The trip has been made possible by the generous financial support of Alumni of the University of Otago in America (AUOA), and alumni who are themselves former Jessup competitors.

“Their kind donations have allowed us to go, and we are really grateful,” says Joseph.

The New Zealand Embassy in Washington DC hosted an event for the Otago team on 13 April. Alumni in the Washington DC region were invited along with all graduates from Otago's Law Faculty who currently live in the US. Strauss says the team were looking forward to hearing about the careers and experiences of Otago alumni.

The Jessup Competition runs from 8 to 15 April. Read more about the Jessup Moot Competition.

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