Ashika Jain and Kaira Pinheiro on winning Vis Vienna

Ashika Jain and Kaira Pinheiro who represented NUJS at the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Competition, 2020. They were adjudged the winners of the moot and received the Eric E. Bergsten award for the Best team Orals. They have been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Raksha Raina who is currently pursuing law from NUJS.

1. Hi! Congratulations on your achievement and thank you for agreeing to share your experience! Can you briefly tell us something about yourself?
Kaira– I am a 3rd year student at NUJS. In my 1st year, I represented the university, as a researcher at the 16th Willem C. Vis East International Moot (Hong Kong) where the team ranked 18th and was awarded Honorable Mentions for Best Claimant and Respondent Memorandums. In my 2nd year, I, along with Ashika, represented NUJS as a speaker at the 27th Willem C. Vis Vienna Moot, where we were adjudged the winners of the moot, and received the Eric E. Bergsten award for the Best team Orals. I am also an avid debater and a Senior Associate Member of the NUJS Law
Review.
Ashika– I am 3rd year student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. In my first year, I participated in the NLS-Trilegal International Arbitration moot where I was fortunate to be adjudged the Best Oralist. I was also the treasurer of the Moot Court Society for the year 2019-2020 and the Chief Information Officer of the IDIA West Bengal Chapter, an initiative which helps the underprivileged students to take up law as a career. I, along with Kaira, am also a Senior Associate Member of the esteemed NUJS Law Review.

2. How was the entire journey of being the winners of Vis Vienna in your second year itself?
Surreal, to say the least. None of us expected it, we just hoped for it and worked hard towards it. It was only possible because of the combined effort of the entire team and the assistance from so many of our seniors. We are indeed grateful towards them all.

3. How did you decide to take up the moot, and how different is the Vis pattern from all the other moots?
We decided to take this up not only because it is the largest arbitration moot in the world with legal practitioners as arbitrators from all across the globe but also because Kaira and I, with our experiences from the previous moots we had done, were interested in the field of international commercial arbitration. When, as a result of the internals process in our university, we got the chance to take this moot, we just didn’t want to miss it!

The Vis moot, unlike other international moots, does not have national rounds before the world rounds, I guess that is one thing which is different. Other than that, it is quite similar to other arbitration moots involving presentations on 4 issues, two jurisdictional and two substantive.

4. Tell us something about your approach while preparing for the moot, did you have any mentors/coaches?
Yes, we did have coaches whom we heavily relied on for help and advice. Our external coach was Mr. Nihal Joseph, an alumnus of NUJS, who currently works as an associate at Herbert Smith Freehills. Our internal coach was Mr. Aryan Agrawal, a 5th year student at NUJS, who had participated in Vis Vienna previously. Both coaches helped us explore new arguments, provided us with direction while researching, and helped us with framing our arguments as well.
We also would do speaking practices with our coaches, as well as other seniors from NUJS itself who had previously participated in Vis, the years before that. Getting tips on presentation of arguments from people with prior experience proved to be an integral benefit for us. It also provided us with different perspectives to look at the arguments we were presenting. With this exposure, we were able to prepare ourselves to respond to a variety of lines of questioning that we may be faced with during the rounds.

5. It must have been challenging to coordinate with the team during the virtual rounds; how did you manage?
We had been practicing together as a team for our speaking rounds throughout February. However, when it was announced in March that the competition would be conducted virtually, we were faced with a new challenge. Additionally, given the COVID-19 situation, our university also shut down, and we all returned to our homes. Since Ashika lives in Kolkata and I (Kaira) live in Mumbai, we prepared ourselves for the scenario where we had to do our speaking rounds for Vis from different cities. Although it was initially challenging to adapt to the new situation,
throughout March we continued to have daily speaking practices over video call with the rest of our team, and even organized practices against other teams from across the world that would be participating in the competition. Over time, we became comfortable with the online format.

6. Vis Vienna is almost a year-long commitment; how did you balance academics and other activities with the moot?
I believe a balance can and should be maintained between the different commitments that one might have, be it in the professional or personal space. All of us have our own set of duties and priorities, be it academic or towards co-curriculars. As for me, prioritising the ‘ought tos’ over the ‘want tos’ is very crucial. I believe organized and planned working ensures you can have a joyful work experience, with a balance between all different obligations we have.

7. Kaira, you have previously been to Vis East as a Researcher, how was the experience of going back to the same moot and winning it as a speaker?
I had been to Vis East as a Researcher just the previous year, so it was wonderful to be able to participate in Vis Vienna the subsequent year! My stint with East helped in a lot of ways apart from simply having acquainted me with the topics of arbitration and the CISG. As a researcher, I had been able to observe speaking rounds and make note of the preferred speaking styles and manner of presentation. It also helped me to learn about the preferences of arbitrators with regard to the manner in which speakers answered their questions. Most arbitrators, I noticed, preferred brief and concise answers, instead of elaborate or evasive responses. Being able to participate in
Vis again was an incredible experience particularly because I had thoroughly enjoyed the research process the previous year, but also because I was excited to be able present the arguments myself this time around, while implementing all that I had learned the previous year as well. Winning the moot was of course the cherry on top!

8. Did you face any significant roadblocks through the process? How did you overcome the same?
As I had mentioned before, adjusting to the online format was a significant challenge. One of the biggest hurdles posed by a virtual moot is the inability of the co-speakers to be able to communicate with each other quickly during the rounds. We could no longer rely on our co-speaker to remind us of when our time was running out, or to pass notes to each other otherwise.

However, after practicing on a daily basis, we both got accustomed to constantly keeping track of the time, while delivering our speeches. In addition to that, it becomes significantly harder to gauge the expressions or responses of all the arbitrators in an online format. It is especially crucial for a speaker to take notice of the same, so that he/she may be able to pause and clarify any arguments/statements that may not have been understood by the Tribunal. An attempt to read body language needs to be actively made by speakers in an online moot. We tried to overcome the same, by pausing occasionally to enquire whether the Tribunal has arrived at the page of the problem that we were referring to, or whether they had any questions before moving onto our next argument.

9. Lastly, would you like to leave a few mooting tips for our readers?
I think the advice that we could give is to be consistent throughout your preparation for the moot, by constantly engaging with the problem and not leaving anything for the last minute. Presentation is crucial, and it is important to speak at a steady pace, with clarity and utmost simplicity so that the judges of the moot can understand everything they hear. Moreover, it is important to always keep adapting your speeches and learn to work on even minor errors. In a moot like Vis, where the core arguments made by teams remain very similar, it is important to aim for perfection in every aspect of your oral presentation. It is equally important to try and prepare a comprehensive list of questions that could be asked in the moot and try to prepare answers for the same.

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