PUBLISHED:April 13, 2020

Duke’s Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot team competes virtually, gains kudos for written memorandum


Vis team members Pita JD/LLM ’20 and M’Ziani LLM ’20 competed in oral rounds via videoconference.

A team of Duke Law students has placed in the top 5% among nearly 400 universities around the world, for their written memorandum of law in the 27th Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot that concluded on April 9.  The team earned Honorable Mention for the Memorandum of the Claimant in a hypothetical international arbitration case, involving novel issues of international commercial law and arbitral procedure.

The four principal drafters of the team’s memoranda are Natalie Pita JD/LLM ’20, Karim M’ziani LLM ’20, Konstantine Kopaliani LLM ’20, and Ziang Zhou JD/LLM ’21.  They were assisted with legal research and drafting by Tristan Baker ’21, Baasit Bhutta JD/LLM ’22, Connor Daughton JD/LLM ’22, and Suraj Vege ’22. 

Senior Lecturing Fellow Ryan Mellske JD/LLM ’09, the founder of Flex Arbitri in Washington, D.C., who teaches International Arbitration, coached the Vis team.  Professor Mellske was assisted by four student coaches: Tobi Wetlitzky LLM ’20 (lead assistant coach), Enning Chang LLM ’20, Felix Karpp LLM ’20, and Jae Lee LLM ’20.

The oral rounds of the Vis competition, originally scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria in early April, were held entirely online via videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has restricted travel and necessitated social distancing policies in almost every country.  Pita and M’ziani got up in the middle of the night multiple days in a row to participate in the oral rounds across all time zones, Mellske said. “They persisted and their performances were excellent.”

The team prepared for the competition for more than six months, refining their skills in written and oral advocacy and becoming more knowledgeable of the international practice of law, while also bonding as a team and connecting in online practice sessions with new colleagues from Buenos Aires to Bangladesh, Mellske said. “These are the most valuable prizes you take with you,” he told them.

Some in the international arbitration community are already identifying the virtual event as an important step toward possibly conducting some international arbitration hearings via videoconference in the future. “In that respect, the virtual Vis moot was perhaps not a setback but the first look at a way forward,” Mellske said.