Competing in what has been described as "the Rolls Royce" of moot court contests, a team of three University of Miami School of Law students has captured the prestigious Frankfurt Investment Arbitration Moot Court Competition, defeating 26 teams from 16 countries and in the process securing scholarships for a summer study abroad program.
Second-year law student Tess deLiefde and third-year law students Andrew Riccio and Beshoy Rizk argued both sides of 16th century Spanish financial crisis and the efforts of the Fuggers, a German banking family, to recover its investments.
The UM students defeated teams from George Washington University Law School and Georgetown University Law Center, ultimately topping a team from the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies in Geneva for the win.
"This was a remarkable achievement by our team and it shows that Miami has become a force to be reckoned with in International Arbitration," said UM School of Law Dean Patricia D. White.
Hosted by the Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, the distinguished competition is by invitation only. The four-day event took place March 14 through 18 in Germany.
Professor Jan Paulsson, the Michael Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair and Faculty Chair of the Specialization in International Arbitration led the team, which was coached by Daniel Vielleville, a dual Venezuelan – U.S. attorney who also has significant experience in international arbitration and transnational litigation.
The international student competition focuses on investment protection. Students present their arguments orally before tribunals of arbitration composed of investment treaty specialists.
Professor Paulsson, who leads the newly established Institute for Arbitration at UM's School of Law, described the win as "a remarkable result. The Frankfurt Moot is the Rolls Royce of moot competitions in the sense that it involves very complex disputes which cannot be resolved with rapid-fire arguments."
As a result of their rigorous research and dedication, the three law students were awarded scholarships for a three-month summer study at The Hague, where they will hone their litigation skills at the international tribunal.
"After months of research and seemingly redundant practicing, it feels marvelous to have risen to the task," team member Andrew Riccio said. "The competition was unusual because you did not know which three of the nine issues would have to be argued until one hour before the hearing."
The 4th Frankfurt Investment Arbitration Moot Court is unique in that it is the first moot in the world to deal exclusively with investment arbitration. The competition begins each September with the publication of the "case study," which contains all the relevant preparation information. The 4th Frankfurt pertained to Spain's bankruptcy in 1557 and the first of a series of state defaults and compulsory consolidations under the reign of Philippe the Prudent of Spain and his successors.
Over the next few months, the students prepared skeleton arguments for both claimant and respondent, which they submitted to the moot organizers. In the final phase, the skeleton memoranda are exchanged with the opposing team one hour before each hearing. By the end of the competition all teams have argued both sides of the arguments against a number teams as they advance.
"The final round was judged by a panel comprised of three senior international lawyers – a former member of the Swiss Parliament, a former Chilean ambassador to the Court of St. James and currently an ad hoc judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria," said Professor Paulsson. "He declared that the skills of the young advocates were so high that 'it was an honor to judge this final round.'"
The moot ends in an awards ceremony for the winning team, best advocate, and runners-up. This year was particularly challenging given that the students were required to apply modern international law to a historical dispute.
"The students did an amazing job," said Paula Arias, director of the UM International Moot Court Program. "I think the difference between the [Miami] Law Team and the other competitors in Frankfurt was the level of preparation and the level of engagement. My students prepared for almost seven months. They studied intensively, not only arbitration and international law, but also investment protection law – a very specific body of law. The team took the competition very seriously as if it was a real case in front of an international tribunal."