The team of SLS Pune represented by Aparajitha Prabhu, Abhishree Manikantan, and Ambika Chaudhary bagged the runners-up award in the world rounds of Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition 2021. The team in this interview with Nipun Bhatia vividly discusses various aspects of their preparation and journey to the finals of the world rounds.
- Please introduce yourself to our readers. Why did you take up law as a career?
Aparajitha: I am in the 4th year of the BBA LLB (Hons.) course at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. I was always interested in law. As I grew up, I realised how I can be of help to other people through this profession. In some ways, it felt like answering a calling.
Ambika: I am a 4th year BBA LLB (Hons.) student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. I have been very connected to this field of work since childhood as my father is a lawyer. He always tried to involve us in the process by discussing hypothetical cases and making us analyse cases. I really enjoyed it and that inspired me to take up this profession.
Abhishree: I am a 4th year BBA LLB (Hons.) student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. I took up law primarily because my older brother pushed me towards it, realising that I had developed some essential legal skills in school. That apart, I always knew I wanted to be in a profession from which I could engage in environmental advocacy.
2. Please acquaint our reader with Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition.
The Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition (IEMCC) is the biggest environmental law moot in the world. Stetson University in Gulfport, Florida has been conducting it since the last 25 years and India has been an active participant for the majority of them. The problem usually deals solely with different aspects of international environmental law, but this year it also had a very large focus on international trade law.
3. What inspired you all to take up this prestigious moot and how did you qualify for it from your college?
Abhishree: Personally I have always had an interest in environmental law and had decided in my very first year of law school that I would do Stetson in 3rd/4th year. We have an internal moot elimination called the challenger in which interested students participate, get ranked and accordingly bid for moots.
Ambika: I chose Stetson because I was fond of environmental law and when I got the opportunity to bid for it through the challenger, I chose to do this.
Aparajitha: I have always been interested in public international law, especially environmental law. The problem was very nuanced and interesting. I was excited to work with Abhishree and Ambika. So I was elated when I got the opportunity to participate.
4. How was the experience of competing with the best universities from around the world and beating them to reach the finals of the world rounds?
Abhishree: Undoubtedly, it was a brilliant experience. In our preliminaries, we were up against teams from Taiwan and the Philippines. It was a bit of a challenge to understand the speaker’s different accents over a screen. While we got to virtually interact with people from so many different parts of the globe, we do regret that the pandemic robbed us of experiencing this in person.
Aparajitha: I do not think we really realised how far we reached until the competition was over. We had something new to learn with every round that we pleaded, be it some information that we thought needed to look into, or a better way of framing our statements. I also noticed that inevitably, every team has more or less the same content and it becomes a matter of how the round progresses and that is not entirely in our control. So we just decided to enjoy every round and give our absolute best.
5. What was the moot problem based on? How did you approach the problem, and did your strategies evolve with more preparation?
Abhishree: This year’s problem was different because it had an entire issue dedicated to international trade, specifically, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Our strategy definitely evolved as we got more familiar with the problem and understood its nuances. Reading the problem together on call every other day also helped us analyse each and every sentence in it, which is really important.
Ambika: As the researcher, I got the opportunity to work on both the issues, which was very interesting and tough as well. I found GATT research very fun and easy to understand as I was studying the subject in college as well, however, I had very little idea about international environmental law which was challenging but so enlightening. I helped Abhishree with the drafting of one of the sides for the trade issue and helped Aparajita with research whenever she needed it. All three of us sat and went through our drafts repeatedly to ensure that everyone understood the other’s part, and to bring in consistency.
Aparajitha: One thing that we were particular about was to cross-check every single source that we used and a way to justify it. We also tried to keep the language as simple and understandable as possible. Our strategy was to keep asking ourselves questions to make sure that we took the argument to its logical end and cover every level of it. I personally really enjoyed the process and had a lot to learn from it.
6. It is no secret that preparation of the memorial plays a very significant role for the success in any moot. Please walk us through how you prepared your memorial and what are the key factors that one should keep in mind while drafting memorials?
Abhishree: We began our process with reading the problem thoroughly and then discussing what we believed our initial strategy should be. We then read as widely as we could, trying to get a grasp of the subject-matter. As we understood the issues better, we were able to focus our research to find what we needed. Personally, I like to break down my issues into very small parts so that following the logic is easy for any reader.
Ambika: I think the biggest challenge for us was to draft all the arguments in a very short and crisp manner. This was specifically difficult for the environmental law issue because it dealt with so many treaties and conventions, which were to be explained and contextualised with the facts at hand.
Aparajitha: One advantage that we had was that we decided that we would finalise the main content three days before the submission. That way, we had the time to format the whole memo and give it about five to six readings. The hardest part was to bring it within the word limit and keep the arguments adequate.
7. Not many people are familiar with the concept of “exhaustion of a search”. What are your views on it?
Aparajitha: I think this happens when you reach a point where you are so used to looking at the information you have in one context, that you do not see the different dimensions to it. We used to usually ditch the moot and watch a TV show together or take a walk to get our mind off it. There are so many points during preparation that we have suddenly realised how a piece of information that we had looked at repeatedly became relevant. I remember being really worried about one of my arguments because I simply could not understand how to tie it up. It narrowed the way I looked at the whole issue, without my realising it. Then, on a random Saturday night I was up at 3 a.m. looking at something completely unrelated and suddenly, it all fell in place. Some of the arguments Abhishree and I came up with have been in casual conversations over lunch or when we were discussing with our friends. I think the key is to recognise the point where you stop being able to process the information and step back for a bit. You do not need to get all the answers in one sitting.
Ambika: I think while drafting a memo and researching for it, it is very common to reach a point where you seem to have read everything available on that topic and yet you cannot find the exact thing that you are looking for. I think in those moments it is very important to just take a breather from that issue or research point and work on something else and come back to it later with a fresher mind. Another thing that worked well for us was that if one of us faced such an issue, we would just ask another person to continue research on that and that usually worked quite well.
8. What are your tips for students who want to pursue international moots in future?
Abhishree: It is very important to realise that international moots are a huge commitment. For us, the process began in August with the internal elimination and ended in March when we finally finished the world rounds. All three of us consciously gave up our winter internships to prepare. That being said, it is a thoroughly enriching experience and you really gain niche domain knowledge and enhance your speaking skills.
(a) One thing that helped us was that we made ourselves really open to each other’s opinions and eventually, the three of us became really good friends in the course of the moot. This is especially important because the duration of these moots is usually six-eight months. I cannot emphasise enough on how important it is to have a team that you are comfortable working with.
(b) You need to be very patient with yourself. There will be many points of uncertainty and it gets overwhelming because international law is so vast that you feel like you need to know an insurmountable amount of information. But breaking it down and being consistent gets you through the months of research without much stress.
Ambika: I think it is very important to understand the amount of commitment that an international moot requires, before taking one up. Therefore, I think before registering for it, one must mentally take note of the submission dates for the competition along with any other commitments that they may have, such as for college internals, externals or internships. This is because such competitions require a lot of attention, dedication and time from the team members.
Additionally, like any other moot competition, it is very important to make sure of your teammates before registering because, I think synchronisation and understanding is what helped us the most while working for the moot.
9. What are your future plans?
Abhishree: The pandemic has kind of thrown short-term plans in a twist, but in the long term I intend to pursue an LLM after working for a few years.
Aparajitha: I want to pursue a career in litigation.
Ambika: We are going to be in our fifth year now. Stetson was a great experience and achievement. I want to focus on understanding what area of law I want to go into and what kind of place I would love to work in or be employed in.