Law student named Best Oralist at international moot competition

For 3L Greg Magarian, practice and passion lead to top honors and a Cincinnati Law first.

If you want to hone your writing skills, enhance your persuasive skills and develop your public speaking skills, there may be no better opportunity to take advantage of than the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot competition, says Greg Magarian (3L). Magarian, who just competed in the 2021 Vis East Moot competition, was just named “Best Oralist,” winning the Neil Kaplan Award — a significant achievement for him and the College of Law. Magarian and his teammate Samantha Berten (3L) also advanced to the championship round of 32, a first for UC Law. They competed against some 400 law students from around the world. The UC Law team received an honorable mention for their memorandum.

“I was excited but shocked that I won Best Oralist,” said Magarian. “I was confident and felt I was doing well, but I didn’t expect it. This was a team effort. It was great to see our hard work pay off and get some international recognition for our Midwestern law school.”

What is the Vis Moot Competition?

In 1992, the Vis Moot was created for the promotion and study of international commercial arbitration and to train tomorrow’s legal leaders in methods of resolution of international business disputes. Named for Willem C. Vis, a law professor and United Nations diplomat dedicated to enhancing cross-border business transactions, the moot quickly became a success with hundreds of law schools worldwide gathering in Vienna each spring. In fact, it was so successful that in 2003 a second venue in Hong Kong was established — the Vis East International Arbitration Moot.

Each year in October, Vis Moot teams are given a “problem” based on a hypothetical commercial dispute arising under the Convention for Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). Built into each year’s problem are issues involving both the procedures of international arbitration practice and substantive breach of contract issues based on the CISG. The CISG is important for American lawyers because the United States is a party to the CISG and will ordinarily replace the UCC for cross-border sales transactions. Each team argues both sides through written memoranda and oral arguments before real-life international arbitrators who volunteered as judges. 

The UC Vis Moot Team was organized in fall of 2016 by Adjunct Professor John Pinney, who teaches international commercial arbitration at the College of Law. He and assistant, Steven McDevitt, a former “mootie” who competed in the Vis Moot for Georgetown Law in 2013 and 2014, have taken UC Vis Moot teams to Hong Kong in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and were scheduled to return again in 2020, but COVID intervened, requiring participating virtually.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Vis Moot competition again had to be held virtually, meaning that the students could not travel to either Hong Kong or Vienna, which in prior years was always a real highlight of the competition because our UC students would meet and compete against students from hundreds of law students from all over the world before leading arbitrators. There was a silver lining, however.  Because there was no travel expense, this year’s UC Vis Moot team is competing in both Hong Kong and Vienna. In fact, this year’s “Vienna Team” is competing this week against more than 300 law schools in hopes of matching the Magarian’s and Berten’s success in Hong Kong.

Noting Magarian’s recognition as the Hong Kong Vis Moot’s best oralist award, Coach John Pinney said: “I knew that Greg had done very well in presenting for the Cincinnati team. The awards for the Moot were announced on Sunday morning. Listening to the presentations, I was hoping that Greg would be recognized for honorable mention when the best oralists in the Moot were announced. I was really disappointed, though, after the names announced for 30 honorable mention honorees didn’t include Greg, when Neil Kaplan, the person for whom the award is named, said ‘And the winner is Greg Magarian of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.’ I then was deeply struck emotionally because I was so proud of Greg’s performance and indeed for that of the whole team which had been working hard, week after week, since October preparing for the Moot. We are now on the world map!”

Practice makes perfect

Greg Magarian, third-year law student

Greg Magarian, third-year law student

The lead up to the event took a lot of work, Magarian stressed. The team met at least twice a week, sometimes for three to four hours for practice, working through issues and receiving feedback. Teammates practiced together to coordinate their arguments and separately in front of their respective mirrors to hone their skills.

Before joining the Vis Moot team as a second-year law student, Magarian had little previous involvement in these types of competitions. As a first-year law student, Magarian and his partner, Trane Robinson, won the UC Law Intramural Negotiation Competition and went on to compete in the ABA’s Regional Negotiation competition. By then, he knew he had a passion for litigation.

Getting to law school

When Magarian graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn, he had no plans to be an attorney, even though his mother is one. He worked in the health insurance field for three years, in both finance and marketing. After several years, though, he decided he wanted to become a lawyer. His mom’s advice when he told her: “Go work for a law firm to see if you really like it.” And so, he did.

Magarian took a position as a legal assistant at White & Case, a large international law firm in Washington, DC, working in their international arbitration practice. “This was my introduction to this area of the law.”

He continued, “I had the opportunity to work with a great group of lawyers and assist with several arbitrations, including some at the World Bank, which was very exciting.” This solidified his new calling.

“When I got to UC Law, I was thrilled to know we could participate in the Vis Moot.”

Why participate in the Vis Moot competition

“We’re a small Midwestern law school with a growing international law department,” said Magarian. “In Cincinnati, there are a lot of international companies. It is a very important field of law even if you don’t immediately think of Cincinnati as this big international hub.”

Team Coach Pinney has focused his law practice for the past 30 years at Graydon on international dispute resolution. He began teaching International Commercial Arbitration at UC in 2016, in part to help expand the international course offerings at the College of Law and also encourage UC law students to follow his footsteps to build careers in international arbitration and dispute resolution. Pinney noted: “The next generation of Cincinnati lawyers serving the Cincinnati companies engaging in the global economy must be prepared to practice law internationally. The Vis Moot team and the opportunities it offers to UC Law students both help build competence and waive the UC flag all over the world.”

The competition created the opportunity for UC law students to understand how international commerce functions, including effective dispute resolution across different cultures and legal systems.

We are now on the world map.

John Pinney, Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP

After graduation this year, Magarian, who is also executive editor of the University of Cincinnati Law Review, plans to work as a litigation associate for Faruki, a Cincinnati-Dayton area firm that specializes in complex commercial litigation. “Because I’m interested in litigation, the skills I developed as part of my preparation for the Vis Moot are the ones I will need as a practicing attorney.” This is just one of the benefits of the competition.  

“I want to thank my coaches John Pinney of Graydon and Steve McDevitt of BakerHostetler, for their mentorship. It’s been a pleasure learning from and working with them,” said Magarian.

“Thanks to my teammates Samantha Berten, Jacob Harrod, Emily Feeley, Matthews Maxwell, Robert Harris, Christie-Anne Beatty, Ashley Kim, Paige Richardson, and Rachel Walters for all their contributions to writing the memoranda and preparing for oral arguments,” Magarian added. Jacob Harrod, Matthews Maxwell, Ashley Kim, and Rachel Walters will be representing UC Law in the Vienna Vis Moot competition from March 26 until April 1, 2021.

“Also, thanks to the College of Law for supporting us and giving us the opportunity to compete internationally.”

The College’s Women in Law alumnae group provided supportive funding for this program.

Credits: Head photo: istockphoto.com; Magarian photo: UC Media Services