Of Techliffs, the JessApp and Franconian Care Packages
Organising the 2021 Jessup German National Rounds
The German National Rounds (GNR) are usually a highlight for all German teams competing in the Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. Every year, a different university volunteers to host this academic event. From 24-27 February 2021, the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg had the honour of hosting the 15 teams participating in Germany. Traditionally, they interact with other teams as well as with versed and well known legal scholars in-person during pleadings and joint social events at the hosting university’s venue. They experience a sense of belonging: the so-called Spirit of the Jessup. This year, such a format was not possible for obvious reasons.
Considering the current pandemic, the GNR had to be conducted virtually and without any physical contact. This unprecedented virtual setting confronted everyone involved, whether team, judge, or administration, with new tasks and brought about valuable new experiences. In this report, we, the team of the German National Administration, will give an insight into our experiences regarding the planning, concept and course of the German competition. Besides, we want to present the components of our rounds which we suggest including in future virtual Moot Courts.
Planning – Third Time’s A Charm
Since the pandemic seemed to be under control in Germany at the time, we started to organise the competition in an in-person format in early to mid-2020. Therefore, over the summer of 2020, we had created a framework that complied with the then applicable local health restrictions. As the year progressed, the pandemic situation unfortunately worsened, defeating our plan and compelling us to start all over again. We agreed on a limited in-person round with a slimmed-down social agenda and split up the social events in small groups spread all over Nuremberg. This concept was supposed to bring at least a bit of Nuremberg’s charm to our guests, despite the restrictions. However, with the German national lockdown at the beginning of November, we could not possibly stick to in-person rounds; the only option left was a completely virtual event. After all the disappointments caused by the volatile situation, we quickly agreed that our decision had one huge advantage for everyone involved: certainty. But we realised that with virtual rounds we would face another major obstacle: Despite the limited time remaining, we felt obliged to everyone involved to develop a concept that would continue to define the GNR as a forum of encounter and exchange. Thus, after some intensive research, consultation, and comparison, we agreed on a combination of pleadings via Zoom and the customised ‘JessApp’ as a common platform for exchange and “social events”.
Concept – JessApp, Zoom and Care Boxes
The technical framework of the GNR consisted of two main components: The video conferencing tool ‘Zoom’ and a license for the modular design system ‘Mobile Event App’ of the company plazz AG.
The latter allowed us to build a customised app named ‘JessApp‘, which served as a control centre or navigation system for the GNR. Without any installations required, it enabled users to communicate with others via chat, participate in live streams of social events, and interact virtually, e.g. as part of a virtual sponsors’ fair. The most important function of this ‘internal social-media-platform’ was the provision of individual user accounts and access to all important information of the GNR. This mainly included respective zoom-pleadings via an individually designed schedule for each participant. The JessApp and Zoom complemented each other well. Zoom allowed us to hold digital pleadings in a user-friendly setting and provide all participants with a platform for a virtual get-together after the end of the official schedules. Given the lack of previous experience, the successful combination of ‘JessApp’ and Zoom was not necessarily foreseeable. In retrospect, it turned out to be a reliable concept.
To offer at least a sensory taste of Franconia, we ordered regional snacks and drinks and shipped them to our participants a few days before the competition. Our sponsors had also provided us with merchandise, which was also highly appreciated by all teams.
The Course of the Digital Competition – More Than Just ‘Pretty Good, Considering’
We designed the course of the competition as close as possible to an in-person round. The single but significant difference was the digitalisation. We started with Welcome Events, followed by the Preliminary Rounds for the next two days. After those, the Announcement Event was held. The Advanced Rounds and Finals took place the following day, and the Award Ceremony marked the end of the competition. The framework for the pleadings, e.g. the coordination, the establishing of the Zoom rooms, and much more, was organised by us in advance. In this sense, there was no difference to the traditional tasks of the national administration: Instead of booking present rooms, we created Zoom rooms and implemented the links on the ‘JessApp’. This parallelism continued throughout the competition and made it convenient for everyone involved.
During all matches, our extended team consisting of 14 Bailiffs, who we had retrained as “Techliffs”, greatly supported us. They were assigned to host the Zoom pleadings and took over the control and technical assistance for their specific pleadings in constant consultation with the administration team. Technical difficulties with Zoom occurred occasionally. Mainly we had to deal with the incorrect use of Zoom functions, connection problems, or hardware issues. This distribution of tasks made it possible for the administration team to collect the scores, organise the scheduling and serve as the centre of communication. In total, it was astonishing how all participants handled the digital challenges and adapted to this new setting. All of them exuded confidence as if the Jessup had been held virtually for years.
The digitalisation even allowed us to include special features in the Announcement and Award Ceremony. For these events, the university’s internal multimedia department set up an e-studio with professional hardware such as lighting, microphones, cameras, and the necessary software, thus greatly supporting us with their experience. The Announcement Event was organised as a livestream via the ‘JessApp’, permitting every participant to watch and comment in real-time. The Award Ceremony was realised through a webinar. This way, we surprised all award winners by bringing them onto a virtual stage. There they ‘received’ their awards and got in touch with the awarding sponsors. After the Award Ceremony, participants gathered in break-out sessions to socialise in small groups. Another unique feature of the Award Ceremony was a pre-recorded interview with former and current ICJ judges Bruno Simma and Georg Nolte, moderated by Patricia Nacimiento (Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills). This interview was integrated into a livestream before the webinar which all participants could attend. Its recording is available here. Both Judges gave us deep insights into their careers and an ICJ Judge’s life. Such an interview would likely not have been possible in person due to their packed schedules.
Insights Gained for Future Moot Courts – The One Who Dares, Wins
Based on our experience, we recommend future comparable events not to underestimate the planning and expenses that digital events require. In some aspects, they demand even closer attention than in-person events. For example, there is no guarantee that judges – who are not physically present at the venue – can spontaneously substitute for others as they might have taken on other commitments in the meantime. Precise planning and communication in advance is a crucial element.
Software like the ‘JessApp’ is not mandatory neither for digital nor in-person events, even though its functions are highly useful for everyone involved. Given the comparatively high costs and the time required to create the app, it seems redundant for an in-person competition. Especially its main functions such as livestream, communication, and the distribution of information can easily be transferred into the non-digital sphere. For digital events, what is essential is to find suitable conferencing software and to ensure functioning hardware among all participants, besides carefully instructing your administration team. Only then will a smooth course, especially for the pleadings, be guaranteed.
Furthermore, we recommend providing a social programme alongside the regular competition to maintain some of the ’Jessup charm’ and make it a memorable experience for all. One should dare to try out different formats, such as a livestream, webinar or virtual fair stands. This should be kept lean and simple for everyone’s sake and not necessarily be adopted entirely from in-person rounds. Without sufficient pauses, participants might experience digital events as more exhaustive than in-person events. Small gifts like merchandise, snacks or drinks, and a professional e-studio are indeed add-ons that depend on the available budget. However, they can give your event a special touch.
Organising the Jessup 2021 German National Rounds was a personal challenge but an unforgettable experience which we are grateful for. Nevertheless, we hope that we will all be able to get together in person again soon, even if we do not want to lose the advantages of digitalisation in the future. We once again thank all our judges and sponsors for the continued participation and support. Finally, we would like to congratulate all German teams on their excellent performances in the Global Rounds, reflecting their dedication and professionalism.