In conversation with Shubh Arora, Anmol Dhawan and Abhishek Jain on winning Asia-Pacific Rounds of Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot

National Law University Delhi’s team comprising of Shubh Arora, Anmol Dhawan and Abhishek Jain won the Asia-Pacific Rounds of the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition 2020. With an aggregate memo score of 94.25/100, their memo was adjudicated to have Overall Memo Rank 1 in the Advanced Rounds. With this win, the team will represent Asia-Pacific region at the World Rounds of the Moot. They have been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Shruti Srivastava who is currently pursuing law from NLUD. 

  1. How would you like to introduce yourself? Why did you decide to pursue law? Also, law schools have a lot to offer these days in terms of opportunities. What are the things you focus the most in college?

Shubh– I am a second-year law student at NLU Delhi who is still exploring his specific professional interests. I chose law because the field offers many dynamic options for one’s career and also because I believed I had the skill set for the profession. In law school, I have tried many activities but mooting and writing are the two I really like.

Abhishek – I am a third-year law student at NLU Delhi. I have a deep interest in policy research and like to explore new areas of law and policy. I did not have a particular reason for pursuing law, however now that I am in law school, I can say for sure that I enjoy it. I feel that the most important thing one should do as a law student is internships since they help one understand the practical side of law and policy.

Anmol – I’m a penultimate year law student at NLU, Delhi. I decided to pursue legal education after seeing the discipline’s influence on various spheres of life and the decision was confirmed after seeing my father caught in a labyrinth of legal battles.There are a plethora of opportunities at NLUD. I’ve tried to focus on improving my research and drafting skills through participation in moots and contract drafting competitions and developing comparative perspectives by taking part in international programs/summer schools.

2. COVID-19 Pandemic has been tragic, and it has led to cancellations or postponement of several moot court competitions. Can you explain how it affected Man Lachs and what is yet to happen in the moot’s timeline?

Usually, around 12 to 16 teams from the Asia-Pacific region make it to the Asia-Pacific Rounds every year, after an extremely competitive memorial qualification round. The Asia-Pacific Oral Rounds for 2020 were supposed to be held in Beijing. In early February, we got to know about the cancellation of the same.

The organizers devised a model wherein only one team from the whole region would qualify to the World Finals based on two separate memorial evaluation rounds judged by space law experts. First, the top 5 teams were to be selected based on overall memorial scores. In the second evaluation round, the memorials were to be ranked (not scored) by distinguished members of the International Institute of Space Law(IISL).

Having won these revised regional rounds, our team will now participate in the World Rounds. They were scheduled to happen in Dubai on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress. However, due to the pandemic, both the congress and the world finals will be conducted online in October 2020 with teams from 5 regions – Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Europe, and North America participating.

3. Your team has done exceptionally well in the moot. What defines your personal interest in mooting?

Shubh – I like the whole concept of mooting. As a law student, it offers vocational insights about how to argue a case. Yes, in reality, things don’t work out as we see in moots but anyways it gives valuable lessons about how to approach a legal problem and how to present yourself before the court. This year’s Lachs moot problem was an unconventional space law problem concerning jurisdiction and control on multilateral space habitats, and space situational awareness. There’s not as much literature available on the issues concerned and among other things, it was our creative arguments that got us through.

Abhishek – I like to think of different and innovative ways to interpret the information at hand. This is a skill I feel is very useful when it comes to mooting. Further mooting allows me the opportunity to learn a new area of law completely on my own.

Anmol – My interest in mooting comes from my general interest in international law. This discipline is not something one that can be aptly ‘learnt’ in the regular curriculum and the best way to develop is through reading and application. Mooting, which, majorly involves extensive reading, research, and creative application of knowledge to the given factual matrix is a great simulation of a near-real life scenario. Since most of our internal moot selections, as well as a large number of mooting competitions, are based on branches of international law, I developed a keen interest in the activity after staying away from it in the initial years due to the unnecessary hype, unhealthy competition and other notions surrounding the same.

4. How has your experience of participating in the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot been?

We were planning to back out of the moot in early February due to the cancellation of the Asia Pacific Rounds in Beijing. A major hurdle was overcoming the disappointment of the cancellation of rounds. The fact that only one team, out of around 40, would be successful, made the challenge even more daunting. However, by then all three of us had developed a keen interest in the problem and space law in general, and decided to continue. From considering dropping the moot in February, to gathering enough motivation to submit our memorials in March, to learning we had qualified to the advanced rounds in April, and to eventually winning the Asia-Pacific competition in May, it turned out to be an enthralling experience.

5. All of you are clearly great at drafting, a skill which I feel is not exactly “taught” at law schools. How did you people learn drafting?

There has been a lot of help from our seniors and who regularly assist students through workshops. Even during the pandemic, our student moot court committee has been conducting some legal research and drafting sessions. However, the best way to improve at memorial drafting is probably through regular participating in moot competitions. Moot allocations are based on fiercely competitive internal selection rounds in most law schools. Participating in these immensely helps you develop research and drafting skills. Our student moot committee has always placed great emphasis on formatting skills. That eventually does help in improving the presentation of the memorial.

However, drafting is eventually dependent on research and the importance of thorough research cannot be stressed enough. It has become a common trend to focus on secondary resources such as articles or other memorials for drafting. That might be great to get a sense of how to develop arguments based on important concepts. But preliminary readings and a strong base in the particular area of law is extremely important. Unfortunately, we started working on the moot very late and were not read well enough. However, despite the paucity of time, a large part of the preparation was solely devoted to reading the most important works to understand the formulation of the space law treaties and the development of the corpus of space law.

6. What helps in making a good memo great, in your opinion?

Memorials are largely evaluated on factual analysis, legal knowledge, argumentative skill, and presentation. We particularly focused on the structure of arguments, presentation, and thoroughness. Manfred Lachs requires you to make memorials of around 9,000 words for each side. There’s a good chance that the team starts losing way towards the final drafting. For the same, we had developed a core structure of arguments initially and kept revising and discussing that every two weeks. Further, we tried to make the submissions wholesome by pre-emptively rebutting many of the opposition arguments.

The quality of memorials at the Asia-Pacific Rounds is extremely good and we are aware that the competition was won on close margins. One thing that, we believe, set our memorials apart, was innovativeness. We had some arguments that seemed outrageous at first and led to long-drawn discussions, confusion, and disbelief. But we acknowledged that space law is an emerging field and a large part of the legal framework is pre-2000. Since our moot problem is based in the year 2040 we took the liberty of innovatively interpreting a lot of provisions as well as gaps in treaties, using them to our favor, envisioning how these rules would play out when space travel and commercial exploration of outer-space have become commonplace. A good understanding of the background and formulation of these treaties helped us interpret the same innovatively.

7. Time management and planning are also something a lot of people struggle with. Coordination is further worsened when everyone is at their own houses and not on campus, as we’re used to while working in teams. How did you navigate these challenges while social distancing?

We tried to have a set plan and deadlines for every small thing such as finishing the skeletal structure, the first draft, citations, and the final draft. For AP, a major chunk of our work was completed before the college was shut. However, a week before memo submission we had to return to our homes. That time is very crucial for combining and syncing material, editing, formatting, etc. We communicated throughout and made (we guess) a decent memo! However, now we have to resubmit our written arguments and for that, we are working on the weaknesses in our memorials. We certainly see significant scope for improvement. Our exposure to different software for online classes is definitely helping. Screen sharing is one of the most crucial features helping us in sitting together as a team and discussing our memos.

8. Given the Pandemic, the resources for research have been limited, as we no longer have access to a well-stocked library. How did preparation work-out for you with the restricted resources?

Shubh – Yes, that has been a big problem. Not only concerning the resources available but also with respect to the environment the library offers for research. Further, reading a lot from electronic devices is not something all of us are used to. We’ve often struggled to find certain space law resources on the web and it has been time-consuming. Space law is a niche area of law and access to better and more resources is always a big plus. However, finding useful and relevant material on the web is something our team has done fairly well. This has helped us immensely in working with very little resources in their physical form. For the environment part, we do not have much of an option. We have to work in the confines of homes and we’ve tried to adjust. For instance, we schedule our meetings at a time when disturbances at our homes are expected to be much lower!

Anmol – Even before the pandemic, there was a fair share of challenges such as the lack of mentorship since very few faculty members at NLUD are acquainted with space law and limited access to resources and databases. However, our Vice-Chancellor sir was extremely supportive and allowed us to procure all necessary subscriptions, in an instant.

9. There are very few moots on Space Law, and Man Lachs ought to be the most prestigious of the lot. But given the nature of law, and how it’s a fairly novel field, why did you decide to do a moot on Space Law?

Abhishek – I got acquainted with Air and Space Law for the first time in my Ist year of law school when I was reading a blog on space policy. I was very intrigued by the idea that we have a body of law specifically for activities in outer space. By the time I had come to third-year I had read up quite a few blogs on space policy and was interested to explore it further. I decided to participate in Manfred Lachs since it would not only allow me to explore and dive deeper into space law but also the chance to take part in a Tier 1 international moot.

Anmol – I had worked on the concept of extradition under international air law for the Leiden-Sarin Moot Court Competition in 2019 and got to know about the broad framework of air and space law. My friend, Karan Vijay, was participating in Manfred Lachs 2019 and his insights and discussions seemed extremely enthralling. Further, I have a deep interest in public international law and wanted to participate in a PIL based moot preferably. At the time of the allocations, I got to know that Manfred Lachs 2020 has a core issue of criminal jurisdiction and extradition under international space law. Considering Manfred Lachs is one of the most prestigious PIL based moots and intrigued by the challenge of exploring an extremely niche area of application of international law, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

10. It would also help if you could elaborate on career prospects associated with space law.

Talking about prospects, there are some great postgraduate specializations in air and space law, offered by premier institutes such as Leiden University, Netherlands, and McGill University, Canada. Due to my involvement in space law, I got to know about the myriad career opportunities in the aerospace industry.

An increasing number of law firms have an aviation and space law practice. Aviation authorities, aerospace companies, and the state departments of space and aviation all have specialized legal departments. There are some great career opportunities at space organizations and agencies. There are research positions at several organizations such as European Southern Observatory, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, European Space Agency, etc. There are some research centres in India carrying out projects. I am particularly aware of the Centre for Air and Space Law at NALSAR University. There are opportunities in academia as well with several institutions developing a course or module on air and space law, domestically and internationally. Many start-ups focussing on economic solutions for space situational awareness and satellite systems have emerged in the last decade. With the increasing likelihood of commercial exploration of outer space, space exploration, and tourism as illustrated from the recent American executive order on lunar exploration, the demand for space law experts can only be expected to rise.

11. The three of you have done very well for yourself in mooting. What plans do you have for the future, both long term and short term?

In the short term, we are working on improving our arguments and preparing to give our best shot at the world rounds. The world rounds are judged by experts distinguished in the field of international law and space law with the finals being judged by judges of the International Court of Justice. To prepare for the same, all of us are reading extensively on international law to develop a holistic perspective about the issues as well as the area of law in general.

Shubh– It’s a long way for me from here. This is the very first moot for me and I would want to do a few more, maybe in diverse fields of law, to have a better hold on this wonderful activity and hopefully learn a lot more from it!

Abhishek – I like to think of myself as a problem solver and I aspire to be a social entrepreneur.

Anmol– In the long term, I wish to pursue higher education in the field of Public International Law or the novel area of Air and Space Law, perhaps, and work at an international organization.

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