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In The Eyes of the Organizers

The Jessup German National Rounds 2023


The 2023 German National Rounds of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court are upon us, and in the last few months, not only the competing teams have been hard at work. Isabel Lischewski talks to organizer Pierre Thielbörger – one of our publishers – about what goes into preparing the National Rounds and how he has seen the Jessup develop.

Can you give us an overview of the ways in which you have been involved in the Jessup over the years?

I am kind of a veteran of the Jessup by now. I have been involved in the Jessup for nine years, previously mainly as one of the coaches of the Hertie School. We built a team up from scratch since 2014. Since then, I have also gained some experience as a judge. This year, together with Professor Mark Dawson and our National Administrator Vincent Widdig, I have the honour of organizing the Jones Day German National Rounds of the Jessup. They will take place from 1-4 March 2023 in different locations in Berlin. I will also be a judge at the Jessup European Friendly Rounds in Geneva later this year.

Could you tell us a bit about the work that goes into organizing the National Rounds? What is most needed to bring this event together?

Most important in the beginning was the fundraising, which started last fall. An event of four days for almost 200 people costs a lot of money, as you can imagine. Inflation has not made this fundraising, mainly from law firms and publishing houses, who continue to generously support the German rounds, easier. Apart from that, we organizers had to coordinate and communicate with the coaches of the teams, build a website, find judges and bailiffs for the tournament, and, of course, we had to organize the different venues in Berlin. One difference to previous years is that Hertie School follows the US American academic calendar: while the German Jessup usually happens in the time period between terms (with very few students on the campus), in Hertie’s case, the “normal” semester is in full swing. Even finding rooms within the Hertie School itself proved to be a challenge!

You have experienced the Jessup in different capacities – what has the organizer’s perspective specifically taught you about the competition?

When you are a participant or coach in the competition, there are many things you can easily take for granted (I was the same): you expect that everything will work perfectly well. When you are “on the other side” of the competition, you realize all the little details you have to think about, and how easily they can go wrong. What if judges do not show up at a match? What if a team drops out last minute?

Jessup is coming back in person – do you think the virtual years have left a permanent mark?

Everyone is really looking forward to the Jessup coming back in person. Mooting is different from other forms of academic meetings and conferences. It thrives on the interaction between pleaders and judges – and that is best ensured face to face. Thus, the German Jessup rounds should stay in person in the future. Whether the same is true for the international rounds is up for debate. While the Jessup is a platform for the exchange of people that would normally not meet (as their states might not even talk to each other!) and while cultural understanding and international friendship are fostered by an in-person event, getting 200 teams from all around the globe to Washington for a few days every year raises some serious ecological questions. It also puts pressure on teams from universities with lesser financial means, even if ILSA in the past has attempted to support them.

What distinguishes the (German) National Rounds compared to the international rounds?

Two differences come to my mind. First, the German rounds are always a particularly close call. The difference in quality between all German teams is much smaller than the difference between stronger and weaker international teams. And the level of the German rounds is particularly high: when during Covid-19 all German teams qualified for the international rounds, all of them did really well. Second, I have observed a particular “German style” in Jessup. German teams are very good “on the law”: they often know the case law and details of the facts better than international teams. What some other teams do, perhaps, better than us, is the style of presentation. International teams frequently tell a story when pleading – which is often perceived favorably in DC.

Having been involved with the competition for several years, what are the most striking changes you have noticed? What do you expect to see in the future?

The biggest change of the last years was the online format. We hope this remains a matter of the past. What will also change are the topics. As the cases are usually tied to current developments in international relations, there will be even more Jessup cases concerning climate change, digitalization or outer space in the future. And if we look to Ukraine, we can sadly be sure that the use of force in international relations will also remain a recurring topic. I remember very well: it was exactly in the night before the German Jessup Rounds started last year that Russia invaded Ukraine. In this regard, one open question is how to treat teams from Russia as long as this aggression continues. I understand ILSA’s arguments on not wanting to punish students instead of politicians, but I also think that, if ILSA wants to remain a credible organization to promote peaceful relations through international law, it will have to reconsider how to deal with Russian teams and thus send a clearer signal than it did last year.

Isabel Lischewski

Dr. Isabel Lischewski is a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant with Prof. Dr. Nora Markard at WWU Münster. Her research interests lie in global governance, critical theory, and access to justice. She is an editor-in-chief at Völkerrechtsblog.

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Pierre Thielbörger

Pierre Thielbörger is a professor of German Public Law and Public International Law as well as Executive Director of the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV), both at Ruhr University Bochum. He serves as co-convener of the Interest Group on Human Rights within the European Society of International Law (ESIL), acts as President of the General Assembly of the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA) and is Adjunct Professor at the Hertie School in Berlin.

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