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Students in practice

Mental gymnastics for jurists

München, 04/29/2015

Framing the indictment, composing a plea, parrying questions from the bench: At the Jessup Moot Court in Washington, law students conduct court cases on issues in international law. For the first time in 30 years an LMU team was there.

LMU team came second in the national competition, which qualified it to take part in the final round of the Jessup Moot Court in Washington.

Quirin Weinzierl and Anna Pich have just returned from Washington, where they took part in a case presented before the International Court of Justice. In the case brought against the Russian Federation by the Ukraine, the plaintiff argued that Russia’s annexation of the Crimea was in breach of international law. “This is a really important case,” as LMU doctoral student Weinzierl explains, “and the secession of part of a legally recognized State raises complex legal issues.”

The decisions reached by the Jessup Moot Court, however, have no legal force. The proceedings are essentially simulations – but they are conducted under entirely realistic conditions. Moot courts deal with hypothetical legal cases as academic exercises, which are intended to give law students insight into the conditions under they will later practice their profession. For although budding legal eagles learn a great deal in the course of their training, they usually encounter the give-and-take of the courtroom only after they have qualified. “In preparation for their appearance before the moot court, we organized a workshop in rhetoric for the aspiring participants, in which the team members were filmed while making their pleas, and their presentations were then dissected and criticized,” says Pich, who coached the LMU team, together with Weinzierl. “That is an important element of a lawyer’s work, which is often not given due emphasis in legal studies.” After all, in cases presented before the Jessup Moot Court, the primary aim is to convince the judges – including sitting members of the German Constitutional Court and the International Court of Justice – by holding a well-argued and convincing plea. “A moot court is more like gymnastics than pole vaulting,” Weinzierl tells the participants in an attempt to make the nature of their task clear. “But, of course, one must also be well versed in the relevant legal background.”

130 universities from 80 countries send legal teams
The Jessup Moot Court is the venue for the best-known and most challenging simulated hearings on questions in international law. This year the LMU team came second in the national competition, which qualified it to take part in the final round in Washington – for the first time since 1983. This was the reward for 6 months of hard work on the part of four students and their three advisors. But as Weinzierl explains, that is the great attraction of the Jessup Moot Court: “The preparations bond a ‘faculty family’ together, as it were, and that is an enormous boon for the students involved.”

Although the LMU team did not come out on top in the international phase of the disputations before the Jessup Moot Court in Washington, it gave one of the best showings mounted by a German team in recent years. In competition with representatives from 130 universities from 80 countries, the Munich students made it into the last 16, and were bested by the team from Sydney that went on to win the competition. Only two German teams have ever got that far before. And the whole team found the experience quite fascinating: “The atmosphere is very special,” says Pich. “On our first day in Washington, we met the teams representing Israel and Palestine, and found them absorbed in a relaxed discussion. It was wonderful to see that two contending parties could come together at a moot court and get on so well.”

Students in all fields can apply for a place on the LMU team for the Jessup Moot Court 2015/2016 until June 15th. This time, the National Final takes place in Munich. For information on other moot courts at LMU, see