Each year, IE University puts on the Commercial & Conflict Law Challenge, a competition that allows law students to roll up their sleeves and get hands-on experience in the legal world. Organized in conjunction with the international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, the challenge is a great opportunity for students to network and gain expert insight into the legal industry.
We had the chance to chat with three bachelor students who formed this year’s winning team: Maitane Barandela, Javier Ihatsu, and Alix Heugas. Here’s what they had to say.
Tell us about yourself and briefly explain the Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge.
Maitane Barandela: My name is Maitane Barandela and I’m a half-Spanish, half-French student in my fourth year of the Dual Degree in Business Administration and Laws. The Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge is a law competition organized by IE University professor Sara Sánchez and the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. It is directed at second- to fourth-year bachelor students who are studying Commercial Law and/or Conflicts and Business Law in Segovia or Madrid.
Normally, participants are organized in groups of three to five people, and they need to prepare a written memorandum with the solution to a fictitious case concerning commercial law and conflicts of laws. Then, a maximum of four finalist groups present their arguments orally before a jury composed of Sara Sánchez, lawyers from Herbert Smith Freehills, and in some cases, other IE University professors. Each team has around 30 minutes to present their arguments and answer questions from the jury. Finally, the jury chooses the winning team, who receives an additional point for their grade in their Commercial Law or Conflicts and Business Law course, as well as a day full of activities at the Herbert Smith Freehills offices.
Javier Ihatsu: I’m Javier Ihatsu, a Finnish-Spanish, fourth-year Dual in Business Administration and Laws student in Madrid. The conflict challenge works in the following way: After the challenge is announced, law students enrolled in Commercial Law 1 and 2 or Conflicts of Law may take part. In the first stage of the challenge, you form a team and have around two or three weeks to prepare a quality memorandum on novel and interesting commercial and conflicts of law issues.
The second phase consists of the final oral round, which includes a short eight-minute presentation on the main conclusions reached in each team’s memorandum. In addition to a round of questions posed by the judges, in this year’s edition of the challenge, four out of the 18 teams were selected to participate in the final round of oral conclusions. Due to the pandemic, the final presentations were held online through the IE Wow Room. This added another layer of difficulty because of possible technical issues and the newness of the situation for all of us.
Alix Heugas: My name is Alix Heugas, I am a French student who just finished her fourth year of the Dual Degree in Business Administration and Laws. I took part in the Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge organized by IE University and the Herbert Smith Freehills law firm. The Challenge consisted of a case study that teams of two to four people solve using the knowledge they’ve acquired in the Business Law and Conflicts Law courses taught at IE University. Four groups are selected as finalists to then present their findings in front of a jury who will finally select the winning team. This year, my team and I were proud to be announced as the winners.
How did your program coursework prepare you for the challenge?
Maitane Barandela: From the beginning of the law degree, we were solving legal cases in every single class. We’re taught to provide legal arguments and counsel on many topics—not only in writing, but also in fictitious oral hearings. This is why I think that these law competitions provide us with an opportunity to use the skills we have been developing through the degree in a more professional and serious way. Also, the fact that I really enjoyed and learned a lot from the Commercial Law and Conflicts & Business Law courses motivated me to participate in the challenge.
Javier Ihatsu: I have always considered these challenges fun to participate in. It’s a nice way to push yourself to go deeper into the subjects you’re learning about. Also, having solid knowledge in both commercial law and conflicts of laws is crucial. Other hard and soft skills are of utmost importance to succeed in such a challenge. Some skills I would highlight include: communication, teamwork, the ability to work under pressure, and the capacity to go the extra mile while doing research. Particularly, regarding the Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge, I think it’s crucial to have the knowledge acquired from the Business and Conflicts of Law course specifically. For me, the main takeaway from my previous experience in these challenges is that students need to think less like students and more like professional lawyers to boost their performance.
Alix Heugas: Our course preparation has definitely helped us be a part of this challenge. Everything in the case to be solved is tied to Commercial Law and Conflicts Law, which explains how to handle a situation where several jurisdictions conflict with each other. The knowledge acquired during these classes is essential to solving the case in the best manner possible. Our professor shows us how to approach a case, and she was the one to encourage us to participate. It’s the best way to put what we’ve learned into practice.
Have you participated in any other challenges?
Maitane Barandela: Yes, I participated twice in the Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge, both this year and last year. This year I ended up being a finalist. I also participated in the EU Law Challenge organized at IE University, as well as the European Human Rights Moot Court Competition organized by the European Law Students’ Association (ELSA) in combination with the Council of Europe. I believe these competitions complement my law degree perfectly and help put into practice all the knowledge and skills acquired through it. It is true that they add work and time to the degree, but the key is to consider them a complementary “subject” and not an additional “workload.”
Javier Ihatsu: For me personally, having previously experienced the IEU Roman Law Challenge, IEU EU Law Challenge, IEU Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge 2019, and the Jessup International Moot Court Competition, I was more prepared for both the memorandum and the oral presentation. This prior experience helped me be more efficient and understand what is required to do well in—or even win—these types of competitions.
Furthermore, I believe doing a dual degree and participating in all these challenges helps me strive for excellence and reach my potential. It also prepares us students for realistic work scenarios. Sometimes, doing a dual degree and participating in many extracurricular activities such as these challenges is a lot of work, but they are extremely good learning opportunities that prepare law students to think and perform like lawyers and real professionals.
Alix Heugas: I participated in the same competition last year, and my team ended up being finalists. It’s true that juggling classes with an additional competition can prove to be quite a challenge. What helps me personally is to view the competition as equal to any of my classes. That way, I dedicate the required time and effort to the challenge. It may seem like a lot of work, and truthfully it is, but it doesn’t last long. It’s like a sprint that is very tiring while you’re at it, but soon enough it’s over and the recompenses are well worth it. The short-term stress is rewarded with a long-term benefit, and for that, I encourage everyone to participate.
Tell us about your experience throughout the challenge. What was it like to work with Herbert Smith Freehills?
Maitane Barandela: My experience in this challenge was very good and, despite the circumstances, I felt it was less stressful than other challenges I participated in. I already participated in this challenge last year and was a finalist, and I was very happy with that achievement. So, I wasn’t sure whether to participate again this year. However, both Alix (who I participated with last year) and my teammate Javier told me they were interested in participating this year, and asked me if I wanted to join them. In the end, I thought it was a good idea to form a team.
I already worked with Alix in last year’s challenge and on many assignments, since we have been classmates for three years in Segovia. However, Alix and I had never worked with Javier, who has always been a student in Madrid. But it turned out to be very positive—we coordinated very well and each of us provided the team with his or her own input. I think the challenge made me realize that it’s very important to have a team that works well together and whose members trust one another, something that can happen even if you don’t know each other beforehand. This fosters diversity in ideas and working methods. I think the greatest challenge we faced was having to prepare our presentation and present it remotely, due to the quarantine situation. However, it turned out well and proved that even when working remotely, a good team can still work well and be successful.
Javier Ihatsu: My experience in this year’s challenge was interesting. First, I worked with a team I had never worked with before. Luckily, the team meshed well—we had the same goals and working methodologies, which made the process a lot easier. Second, as mentioned before, the challenge was conducted partially online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation added some extra difficulties for the finalists, because we had to give our presentations online. Finally, the competition in the challenge was very high this year, with some extremely talented people and teams participating. I’m sure the decision was very hard for the judges this year.
Alix Heugas: My experience throughout the challenge was very good. We were very lucky that the lockdown occurred right after my teammates and I had finalized the report. This meant only the presentation was done online. The main challenges were time management, coordination among all team members, and finally, the occasional technological hiccups that are always at risk of occurring when working online. The final presentation in front of the lawyers from Herbert Smith Freehills was also enriching. My three main takeaways would be to always have a mobile hotspot on you in case things go south with your connection, to not stress too much over the presentation in front of the jury (they are really friendly and won’t seek to purposely undermine you), and finally, to tackle the case well in advance. It’s quite a big amount of work that will need many hours of reviewing and re-editing.
What was it like to present your case online? What was your experience with liquid learning like?
Maitane Barandela: Presenting the case online through the WOW Room added some stress about potential technical issues or connectivity problems, especially in light of the time constraints we had: only 12 minutes to present all our arguments. In fact, during our presentation, Javier’s lights cut off at his home in the middle of his part of the presentation and he disconnected from the platform, which was a stressful moment for all of us. However, thanks to Javier’s rapid reaction, the issue was solved within two minutes and the jury gave us more time to finish our presentation. I believe everything else turned out fine and the competition ran smoothly. It was a different experience and very useful for us to be aware of the professionality and reaction skills involved in videoconferences, which will be even more frequent from now on in law firms and other companies.
Javier Ihatsu: As mentioned, the situation with Coronavirus led the competition’s final round to be conducted online through the Wow Room, which, at least for me, was a totally new experience. Again, the key to overcoming this new situation was to properly prepare the final presentation and to practice it a lot. Coordination online was easier than expected due to online working tools such as Google Docs, WhatsApp, etc. However, I am glad we got to work face-to-face in the memorandum phase of the competition—this made team meetings and coordination more efficient and productive. Furthermore, I think this online experience was of utmost value for all participants of the challenge, since working from home and using online tools will be implemented in the vast majority of workplaces in the near future. This gives us an advantage in the eyes of possible future employers.
Alix Heugas: While I enjoyed going to the Herbert Smith Freehills offices last year and attending the cocktail celebration that followed, because we got to talk to the lawyers, I’m grateful for having been able to experience IE University’s WOW Room this year. Presenting the case online was much easier than I could’ve expected. A person calls you to join the room, where your presentation is already uploaded. All you have to do is turn on your mic. You can see everyone’s faces and your presentation slides. The final Q&A segment also went very smoothly. The WOW Room really made the process as easy and fluid as possible.
What piece of advice would you give to students who wish to participate in this challenge next year?
Maitane Barandela: I think the most important thing is teamwork. The key to success is to work well together, coordinate well, and most importantly, trust each other and respect each other’s ideas. Cases can sometimes be very complex. They must be assessed from different perspectives and it requires a lot of research. This can only be done with a good team. Otherwise, it’s very hard to be successful in this kind of competition. Also, I would recommend future participants to be very clear and structured in both their written memoranda and in their presentations. I think this is what led us to win the competition. Last but not least, motivation is key. This challenge has to be, on the whole, an enjoyable and satisfying experience for its participants.
Javier Ihatsu: In my opinion, there is no one clear route to success. But there are some basic things that future teams should take into account to increase their probabilities of success. The first one is to work hard and trust your work. The second is to build a good team you like working with, that has diverse perspectives and skill sets that complement each other. Additionally, I would say preparation is key. The team that works the hardest and prepares the best, both for the memorandum and the oral round, have the best shot at success.
Alix Heugas: The piece of advice I would give is to take the leap. Even if it might feel like a lot of work, the rewards are worth the effort, and it’s the best way to engrain what you’ve learned in class into your brain. Don’t hesitate to search extensively for outside information, as a majority of the work is pure research. The main key to success is really to just have an amazing team willing to put in as much effort and work as you are. If you select wonderful teammates, like I was grateful to have, then you are already on the right track to do well.
IE University strives to provide students with hands-on learning experiences throughout their degree so that upon graduation, they are prepared to dive head-first into their dream roles. The Commercial & Conflict of Laws Challenge is just one of many ways we train students for real-world professional scenarios, equipping them with expert insights they wouldn’t find anywhere else.