By Saga Norrby
– Earlier this month, a team from Amsterdam Law School (ALS) won the 16th Willem C. Vis East International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Hong Kong. One of the two speakers representing the winning team was Amsterdam University College alumnus Stijn Wilbers, 25.
At the annual moot court competition, known as the Vis East Moot, more than 130 teams from law schools all over the world got the chance to compete before a tribunal of experienced arbitrators, by acting as lawyers in an imaginary dispute concerning an international sales contract. The Vis East Moot is a sister competition of the somewhat older Vis Moot held every year in Vienna.
Wilbers represented the ALS team together with Caroline Groefsema, and they both won Honourable Mentions for Best Individual Speaker. The team in its entirety, including Florence Haverhals, Freek van Leeuwen, and Wessel Breukelaar – all three representing the ALS team in the sister competition in Vienna – won Honourable Mentions for the two written memoranda they submitted in December and January, prior to arriving in Hong Kong for the oral phase of the competition. For these memoranda, Wilbers says his AUC experience came in handy. “Because of AUC I knew really well how to word things, and that’s helped for sure,” he said.
The ALS team had not made it to the elimination rounds – the final 32 teams – in five years, and doing so was the goal of this year’s team. To get there, they had to gather high scores from the panel of arbitrators in the four general rounds that preceded the elimination rounds. “From there on we just started enjoying it, because we were already there, at what we wanted to do – from there on, anything was a win,” said Wilbers.
After defeating NALSAR University of Law in the quarter finals and the National Law Institute University, Bhopal in the semi finals, both Indian universities, Wilbers and ALS faced another Indian institution, O.P. Jindal Global University, in the finals. The final hearing took place on the morning of April 7, in a banquet hall at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kowloon. As the final came to a close, the ALS team were happy with their performance, but they were also impressed by their opponent and not sure who had defeated whom, says Wilbers.
After gathering outside in the smoldering heat for a group photo, all the teams reconvened in the banquet hall for an awards lunch. Between each course renowned arbitrators announced different awards, such as Honourable Mentions for Best Individual Speaker, saving the announcement of the winning team for last. Then finally, right before dessert, it was time.
As the arbitrators who had made up the tribunal at the final hearing took the stage, Wilbers – who said he had been quite calm until that point – felt his heart pound. Cutting to the chase almost immediately, presiding arbitrator Matthew Gearing QC announced ALS as the winner, and the ALS team erupted in cheers. “‘Surprise’ is not the right word, because it makes it seem as though we thought we couldn’t [do it], but it was just such an unloading of emotion in that moment,” said Wilbers.
Wilbers, who grew up in Rotterdam, was a member of AUC’s class of 2017. Parallel to his studies in international relations and economics at AUC, he also completed a bachelor in law at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). “AUC was top priority, and then with the law degree I had more flexibility, so that made it possible to combine,” he said.
Since 2018, Wilbers has been doing his master’s at ALS, the law school of the UvA, while also working as a part-time law assistant at the firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek. Multiple lawyers at De Brauw served as coaches of the ALS team, a role Wilbers hopes to one day fill for a future team.
Soon after arriving in Hong Kong, Wilbers received the news of the death of his close friend Joshua van der Kroft. Wilbers and Van der Kroft were housemates in their first year at AUC, neighbours in their second and third, and frequently hung out in Amsterdam or went on trips together. Wilbers says he owes some of his debating skills to Van der Kroft, who always tested him with provocative and witty discussions on a wide variety of topics. “He has definitely contributed to my success in the moot court,” Wilbers said. “I think in the end anyone’s ability to achieve anything is built on being surrounded by sharp and curious people – for me and many of our friends, Josh was definitely one of those people.”
The coaches and other members of Wilbers’ team were all supportive and told him to take breaks whenever he needed to, but he preferred to escape into his work and surroundings. “I went into some sort of response mechanism to push it away, which was made easier [by the fact that] I had a lot of stuff to focus on there,” he said. “Being in Hong Kong, it’s such a different world, so for me Amsterdam and my friends and Josh and everyone just seemed to be in a different dimension, a different universe.”
Wilbers may have immersed himself in the task at hand, but he says he also felt the loss of his friend come together with his joy in the moment his team won. “It was in a way a beautiful tribute, to him,” he said.
Photos by the Vis East Moot Foundation Ltd