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[Lee Jae-min] The Jessup Moot Court Competition

Phillip C. Jessup (1897-1986) was a long time law professor at Columbia University. When World War II ended, he was involved in the drafting process of the U.N. Charter and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He was then elected as a judge of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and served at the world court between 1961 and 1970.

Although he died in 1986, his name has become more famous through its connection to the most prestigious moot court competition in the world. The Phillip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition may sound familiar to all students attending law schools all over the world.

Each year, law students around the world participate in this moot court competition. It starts with national rounds or regional rounds, as the case may be, where national champions and regional champions are chosen. In late March, all these teams gather in Washington, D.C., for the international round, where the world champion is selected. In recent years, roughly 600 teams participate in this competition from more than 100 countries. In 2010, the National University of Australia won the championship by defeating Columbia University. Since 1963, when the competition commenced, the National University of Singapore and the University of Texas have been co-leaders in terms of championship victories with four each.

National rounds and regional rounds are organized and administered by respective national administrators and regional administrators. The administrators change each year and this year I happened to serve as the national administrator for the Korean national round. Five teams participated in the Korean national round and the competition was held on Feb. 25. It started early in the morning and lasted until late evening. Scorecards were collected, evaluations were exchanged and hard choices were made. One team was selected to represent Korea in the upcoming international round on March 26.

Practicing lawyers and law professors who voluntarily served as judges in the Feb. 25 competition were all pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge, the quality of legal arguments and the fluency of English of all five teams. Some of the judges confessed that it was hard to believe that students in their mid-20s could present such a performance.

As far as I can remember, the best record for any Korean team in the international round was Seoul National University’s advancement to the round of 16 a couple of years ago. Given the number of teams participating in the competition from all over the world and the time and energy put into the preparation by all these teams, a place in the top 16 is indeed remarkable. Most of the teams in the international round are from countries where English is the native language, so teams from countries like Korea have to deal with another obstacle. Maybe this year the Korean team may break the previous record.

In my mind, the positive impression from the Feb. 25 competition was juxtaposed with the recent stand-off among interest groups concerning how to regulate the domestic legal market in the new law school system. The new system now enters its third year. As recently as last week, new trainee attorneys who passed the bar exam last fall under the old (now fading-out) system boycotted the scheduled entrance ceremony for the National Judicial Research and Training Institute in protest against the Ministry of Justice’s plan to appoint graduates from the new law school system as prosecutors. Many people suspect that the main reason for this confrontation between the old and the new is to protect their respective interests in the domestic legal market.

It is sad to see the legal profession spend more time on winning a turf war than global competition. The new generation of the legal profession needs to look beyond the turf battles in the Korean market. More importantly, when the Korean legal market opens up as scheduled, the distinction between the domestic market and the global market will gradually disappear anyway. Although there is still a long way to go, the impressive performance of the young law students in the Korean National Rounds indicates that the atmosphere is changing, and in the right direction.

For many people “March Madness” is associated with NCAA basketball. But for some people, there is another March madness going on in each March. I wish the lucky team representing Korea all the best in the March 26 event. 

By Lee Jae-min

Lee Jae-min is a professor of law at the School of Law, Hanyang University. ― Ed.
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