IE Law students at EHRMC: an interview with team members

@IE University

The European Human Rights Moot Court Competition is a truly unique opportunity to put the study of human rights law into action. In a simulation of the legal processes that take place in the European Court of Rights, teams of student competitors present arguments centered on a hypothetical human rights case.

By presenting before a court composed of real judges and référendaires from the EU Court of Justice, participants develop critical skills to prepare them for the complex and competitive field of European human rights law.

IE University is thrilled with the progress of our law students in this year’s Moot Court competition so far. We talked to two members of IE University’s successful Moot Court team—Diane Valat (French and Slovenian), a third-year student of the Dual Degree in Law and Bachelor in International Relations, and Theresa Erna Juergenssen (Salzburg, Austria), a third-year student studying the Dual Degree in Comparative Law and English Law—to find out more about their recent experience in the Moot Court. Having advanced through the regional round of the competition, these students now look forward to participating in the final round held at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Tell us about your experience at the Moot Court—how did you find the experience of real-world simulation?

Diane: Throughout the EU Human Rights Moot Competition, we’ve worked on a fictional case involving matters of International Human Rights Law and European Human Rights Law. From the moment the team selections were announced by our coaches, my teammates and I worked intensively on the written submissions for both the applicants and the defendant, but also on the oral pleadings which took place in Göttingen, one of the three cities where the local oral rounds were organized. Surrounded by teams that came from all over Europe, pleading before experts in human rights and international law was extremely rewarding.

Being one of the eight teams selected to go to the second round of the Moot Court Competition makes all the hard work worth it. We’re incredibly excited to be going to the European Court of Human Rights to compete!

Theresa: Participating in the European Human Rights Moot Court Competition was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I advance my legal reasoning, enhance my human rights understanding, and develop oral argumentation skills, but I learned valuable life lessons and made some truly great friends. Arguing a case in front of a court really validated my decision to study law as well as my intention to become a human rights barrister.

What inspired you to participate in the Law Moot Court?

Diane: When I learned about the possibility of participating in the EU Human Rights Moot competition, I immediately signed up. I knew it would be a challenging opportunity to be immersed in a real-life situation and improve my legal knowledge and skills. I’m really glad I signed up because it gave me insight into what pursuing a legal career would look like and made me more impassioned to do it.

Theresa: I hope to pursue a career as a human rights lawyer, so the opportunity to learn more about the ECHR and the court’s case law was invaluable to me. Additionally, I am studying to become a barrister, so it was essential for me to gain some oral argumentation training. I knew the competition would be a chance to challenge myself and test my skills by competing with other universities.

How did you prepare for the competition?

Diane: While preparing for the EU Human Rights Competition with my teammates, we worked to improve our skills in terms of research and analysis, organization, critical thinking, adaptability, and argumentation. During the first semester, we were working individually on the analysis of different fundamental articles in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as cases in the European Court of Justice. We then worked on defending the applicants’ and/or defendant’s position through collaborative oral presentations. After several sessions, our coaches Alice Thomas and Amaya Ubeda de Torres selected students to form the team representing IE University.

Balancing our usual workload with preparation for the Moot Competition was challenging, but with efficient organization, dedication and support from our coaches we ensured we had written submissions for the first round ready on time. The written element required a lot of research and brainstorming on how to structure our arguments. To develop the oral pleadings, we met every week in groups either in class or through Skype to practice our arguments. Throughout this process, the advice given by our coaches and other law teachers was really helpful.

Theresa: The first stage was very learning-intensive; we learned about some general notions of the ECHR and the court and we had to submit our arguments for both the applicant and the state on a weekly basis. That was particularly challenging—each week we really had to dive into the vast case law background in order to gain even the slightest understanding of both the article and its application to the case at hand. Once the team was selected, we were able to delve into the material more deeply, practice our skills, and engage in discussions on a more advanced level. During that time, we continued with research on the court’s case law and wrote our two briefs—one on behalf of the applicants and one on behalf of the state. In the second semester we began enhancing our oral argumentation skills to prepare for the regional rounds in Göttingen, meeting almost every week to practice.

What have you learned about the competition, and what is the key to success in the Moot Court?

Diane: Preparation, dedication, and teamwork were the main things that equipped us for the pressure of the competition. Trusting your teammates, coaches, and yourself is important for motivation and to give the project more fluidity. Especially during the oral rounds in Göttingen, we needed to think creatively in order to contest the judges’ questions and the opponent teams’ arguments.

Theresa: Hard work, fierce determination, and teamwork. You also need to learn how to think on your feet for the oral pleadings as the judges can interrupt you at any point, which involves a certain level of self-confidence so that you are totally committed to your argument. It also requires high attention to detail.

What were the main challenges faced during the competition?

Diane: When drafting written submissions, one of the main challenges was time constraints. While other universities started working on their submissions as their only project for the semester in early September, we began working on them as a team in mid-November. At that time, we were also balancing our usual workload of final presentations, essays, exams, and extracurricular activities. In addition, the fact that our team consisted of students from different campuses meant that it was sometimes difficult to set up a meeting time. Using tools such as Skype helped us overcome this issue and maintain a constant flow of preparation and dedication to the project.

In the oral pleadings in Göttingen we were the only team who had to plead twice as applicants, where each team normally only does it once. However, in the end this was an advantage for us. The situation allowed us to adapt our arguments for the second pleading, using the comments and strengths that were highlighted by the judges.

I would like to thank our coaches Alice Thomas and Amaya Ubeda de Torres for their constant support. They always ensured we had the necessary legal knowledge and confidence to rise to the pressure of the competition. A special thank you must also go to the IE University law teachers who judged our performance in the oral preparation stage and gave us helpful advice.

Theresa: Everything and anything was a challenge really. We had to learn a completely new field of law in a very short time span, learn how to apply the law to the case at hand, and grapple with some very controversial legal issues. In reality, there was no clear solution to the case and no one correct answer. We also had to learn how to be both concise and brief in our argumentation in order to stay within the page/time limit for both the written briefs and the oral pleadings.

The easiest part was probably working in a team. In my opinion, we all worked perfectly together and were very much in tune.

Since I want to pursue a career as a human rights lawyer and barrister, having participated in the competition will greatly advance my career chances and opportunities. Getting to the final rounds is an incredible asset in any application for legal internships, jobs, and traineeships.

What is the key to success?

Theresa: Believe in yourself and go that extra mile. When I chose the elective, I was incredibly unsure of myself and I certainly didn’t think I was going to be chosen to represent IE University. Yet, it was neither my skills nor intellect that hindered me in any way—it was solely my own insecurities that were hampering my progress. Especially when it comes to litigation, being sure of yourself is an incredibly important asset.

Apart from that, you need to be prepared to put in the extra time. Even if you think you know your pleadings well enough, keep practicing them, keep researching case law, and keep improving; there is always more to do. It is the details that truly make or break your case, so never stop trying to get better.