American University of Washington College of Law vs. Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich — What does it take to be a good lawyer?

written by Christina Pletowski, co-written by DeVaughn Jones.

Does Suits portray an accurate image of the legal world? Do I need to have a Harvey Specter personality and attitude to land in a top law firm? How awesome are the aspects of BigLaw, is it really the holy grail and what do I really do before going to court?

DeVaughn Jones, a student at the American University Washington College of Law and I, Christina Pletowski, a law student at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) in Munich, Germany, both applied to the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Competition at our respective universities.

I have been eager to find out how much of that fictional career represents the reality of life as a lawyer. The passion for English, debating and law made the Vis Moot a desirable option. The annual Vis Arbitral Moot attracts over 300 participating universities from around the world and is judged by some of the world’s preeminent arbitrators, litigators, judges, and international law scholars. The focus of this particular Moot Court is on international commercial law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods 1985 (CISG) and arbitration for resolution of international business disputes. The first phase of the competition is the preparation of written submissions for each claimant and respondent, followed by the hearing of oral arguments based upon the memoranda in front of panels of arbitrators in a case-study based arbitration. Therefore, we had to resolve questions of contract under specified rules of arbitration. [1]

The Vis Moot Court is the most intense and challenging competition and law experience offered at our universities. No other competition gave us the opportunity to spend seven months being fully involved in such a project, going to international countries for Pre-Moots with an international pool of competitors, and a chance to apply argumentation and rhetorical skills.

We wanted to be exposed to dispute resolution in international contexts — to be exposed to students who were practiced in argumentation like us, but who were from different countries and educational backgrounds. The diversity in competition is also a teaching tool — we have been eager to learn which of our peers were performing at the absolute top of this industry, and how they or their countrypersons advocated.

DeVaughn and I met for the first time during our pleading at a pre-moot at Fordham University, New York. We respectively represented claimant and respondent, covering the procedure and merits of our case.

Never in my life did I expect I would plead against students from the American University — a very interesting and pleasant encounter. After intensely competing against each other, we talked about what we consider the biggest differences between U.S. and European Vis Moot teams.

Besides the not so surprising fact that accents are varying, it occurred to us that the European teams are clearly more rehearsed. You could tell which European teams had Vis Moot Court programs built in as classes as their recitations were flawless. Worth mentioning at this point is that the Vis Moot Court at the LMU has a very high priority when entering the team. Normally, students do not attend any other classes next to the participation in the Vis Moot since all of the time is invested into this project whereas at the American University and some other U.S. universities and colleges, the Vis Moot Court is handled more as an additional class besides any other class taken during the semester. Moreover, U.S. teams tend to be more personable. They are generally more comfortable going “off-script” than the Europeans.

When well-practiced, a major difference between U.S. and European teams was that European teams tended to have more focused, point-based arguments. U.S. teams, though, had more issue-based arguments. It seemed consistent with what we have learned about common law versus civil countries.

Overall, we would recommend the Vis Moot Court to any law student. Besides making friends of own teammates, we had amazing conversations with international peers whom we still keep in touch with and created friendships. Generally, the participation at the Vis Moot Court can be compared to a huge networking event. We stepped out of our comfort zones, learned much about arbitration, and in the process, we also learned how to advocate in general. The Vis Moot Court gave us both, friends for a lifetime and lessons in solving international disputes. It has been a very educational experience and brought substantial reward to us. The competition has been an excellent practice for us to receive legal insight of professionalism, making it a vital part of the learning process in our law studies.

Most important characteristics of a good lawyer

  1. The gift of gab — the ability to speak with great clarity, and in an attractive way, mastering the skill of presentation.
  2. Skill with the pen — the ability to write with great clarity, and in an attractive way.
  3. Comprehension — the ability to take information in from a page or a person and understand the intended (and unintended) meanings.
  4. Imagination — the ability to take real information and apply it to different, not-real circumstances to ‘see’ what could happen.
  5. Empathy — the ability to feel within oneself what another person is feeling or expressing.
  6. Listening — the ability to listen first, then analyse and synthesize the information given to be able to provide “perfect” advice to clients.
  7. Perseverance — the ability to keep working and doing something no matter how difficult it is to achieve success.

In our opinion, becoming a good lawyer means possessing the perfect blend of analytical, linguistic and emotional skills. So, is being a lawyer like Suits? Perhaps — it depends on whether you preferred pre-moots to sessions at the tailor.

The views in these piece are solely those of Christina Pletowski and DeVaughn Jones. Numbers, facts and statistics are taken from the sources listed below.

[1] Association for the Organisation and Promotion of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, “About the Moot”, 2020, https://vismoot.pace.edu/site/about-the-moot (accessed October 08, 2020).

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Christina Pletowski

Christina Pletowski

B.A. at LMU/NKU — Law student based in Germany, interested in global politics and economy. Exploring the future, trying to understand what’s going to be next.