Five students from the University of Miami School of Law last week won multiple awards and advanced deep into the elimination rounds of the world's largest and most prestigious international arbitration moot competition.
Held annually in Vienna, Austria, the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot is one of the centerpieces of the international arbitration community, drawing together students, practitioners, academics and arbitrators for an intense six-day exercise in oral advocacy in the context of disputes in international sales transactions. This year's moot attracted 295 schools from 67 countries. All teams compete in four preliminary rounds, and the 64 teams with the highest scores advance to the first elimination round. Then, single elimination matchups begin, cutting the field to 32, then 16, and so on, until one team remains.
For the first time in the school's history, Miami's team advanced beyond the round of 64. In fact, the team – Wamiq Chowdhury, who's aiming for an LL.M in International Arbitration; Bianca Olivadoti, 2L; Carlos E. Nuñez, 3L; Gabriela Pirana, 2L; and Eftihios Andronis, 2L – advanced all the way to the round of 16 before falling to a Columbia University team in a split decision. In addition, the team won an honorable mention for one of its briefs in the written component of the competition, and Chowdhury was recognized with an honorable mention as best oralist.
"I had high expectations for this team from the outset, but we exceeded even those," said Chowdhury, who is the current Miami Law/Young ICCA scholar. "I never even dared to dream that we could advance to the round of 16 – it's elite territory. I think the success we had in Vienna is a reflection of the fact that Miami has become one of the premier places in the world to study international arbitration."
After strong performances throughout the four days of preliminary rounds, Miami advanced to the elimination rounds, itself a significant achievement, for only the second time in the school's history. The Miami team then won two unanimous decisions against formidable opponents from the University of Münster (Germany) and Queens University (Canada) before falling to Columbia. Miami's performance was the third best amongst the 49 schools from the United States that were competing in Vienna.
"This was definitely the best experience that I have had as a law student," said Nuñez, who also serves as the student president of the International Moot Court Board. "It is a great way to leave this program after three years."
After a nervous wait for the decision in Miami's round of 64 matchup against Münster, the tribunal's presiding arbitrator began his announcement by quoting Olivadoti's argument. "At that point, I knew we had advanced, but I didn't want to celebrate until it was absolutely clear," Olivadoti said. "I mean, we had never gone this far before."
The "mooties" began preparing for this year's competition in August, and received a tremendous amount of support from the Miami Law community. The team's secret weapon, Nathan Arentsen, 2L, selflessly spent countless hours helping team members develop and test their arguments. Lauran Guijarro and Nyana Miller, who are both Miami Law alumni and former Vis Moot participants, along with LL.M student Santiago Aguilar – an ex-coach for Universidad Panamericana in México – also sacrificed much of their own time to work with the team in practicing, discussing, and refining its arguments.
The team's two principal coaches, John H. Rooney and Paula Arias, said that they could not be happier with the team's performance. "Looking back to August, when the team met for the first time, I saw a group of students who were excited and committed, but still had a lot to learn," said Arias, a Lecturer in Law and Director of the International Moot Court program. "Looking now, I see a group of professionals who became attorneys during this trip. I can only say that it was so gratifying and emotional that I was moved to tears."
"For me, this year's performance was a milestone in the history of oral advocacy competition for Miami Law," added Rooney, a Miami lawyer whose specialties include arbitration and international commercial law and dispute resolution. "The Vis Moot brings together the best and brightest student advocates and writers from around the world. Although one has to witness personally what is the Vis Moot in order to truly appreciate the magnitude of this team's accomplishment, I can truly say to those not present that the team exemplifies the quality and dedication of the Miami law student. The law school and Miami's legal community should be proud of this group of tireless workers, who exemplified team work, cooperation, skill, and intelligence. I could not feel prouder."