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Vestby shows her merit among international students

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Swan Valley’s own Meagan Vestby didn’t finish her graduate studies the way she would have expected this spring, but she still successfully completed her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Ottawa (U of O), as well a Master of Arts from Carleton University’s Normal Paterson School of International Affairs.
“The unique program with University of Ottawa and Carleton allowed me to finish both at the same time,” said Vestby. “As a result of COVID-19, I don’t know I can truly claim to be ‘graduated’, as the class of 2020 is not having a convocation. But, I have finished my studies and I suppose I will be getting my Juris Doctor in the mail.”
Her time at U of O has led to some interesting opportunities, including a law-based international tournament in 2019 called the Foreign Direct Investment Arbitration Moot (FDI Moot), a prestigious international competition that draws experts from all over the world to act as judges and draft the hypothetical ‘moot’ problem each year.
It is the largest international arbitration moot, aside from a commercial arbitration moot held in Vienna. The FDI Moot was hosted in Miami, Fla. last year.
Vestby noted that the competition is recognized by many in the field of investment law as an important networking event and opportunity to law students interested in specializing in the area.
“The best way to describe a moot competition is analogizing to a mock trial,” she said. “International moot competitions gather law schools from all over the world to compete against each other. Each law school submits one team to argue the same hypothetical legal case in front of a panel of judges.
“The format of the competition is like a weekend minor hockey tournament: you play a round-robin against the teams in your pool with the hopes of advancing to the playoffs.”
Vestby explained that there are several large international moots covering a range of topics from commercial arbitration to international public law, for example. The moot she participated in covered foreign direct investment, more commonly known and associated with investor state dispute settlement.
“This area of law is triggered when a company invests and carries on business in a foreign country, like when a Canadian company builds a factory and begins operations in the United States, or vice versa,” said Vestby.
Her U of O team ended up having a great year, ranking first in Claimant Memorial, third in Respondent Memorial and highest overall score for 2019.
During the round-robin, they faced teams from Russia, India, Kenya and Argentina, leaving their pool undefeated. In the first round of the playoffs, U of O defeated New York University, but were bested in the second round against Singapore University.
“Despite losing in the oral round playoffs, we won Highest Ranked Team due to our combined oral and written scores,” said Vestby.
The first way to score points at the FDI Moot is through written arguments that are graded and scored by a panel of judges. These arguments are prepared before the tournament begins and are used to rank the teams in their brackets. Each team submits for both the Claimant – or plaintiff – and Respondent – or defendant. Vestby noted that these written arguments take several months to prepare.
The oral arguments are much like setting up a shoot-out, with each team choosing a starting line-up.
“The team coaches will pick two speakers to make the team’s arguments for that round,” said Vestby. “Each individual person receives a numeric score based on their performance in delivering arguments, responding to questions from the judging panel and rebutting the arguments made by the other team.
“All of these scores are kept confidential until the end of the moot and revealed at an award ceremony.”
The FDI Moot also released the statistical breakdown from the past two decades, revealing that not only was the U of O team the best of the 2019 competition, but also the most ‘winningest’ team in the history of the moot. And, Vestby’s team was rather small compared to some of their international peers, having only four team members in comparison to the 25-person team from the University of Paris.
“Although we were just four students, our team was given enormous support from the Law Faculty,” said Vestby. “Our team in particular had a dedicated group of coaches, comprised of two law professors and an alumnus, whose experience and expertise were invaluable and instrumental to our success.
“U of O has a very strong mooting program, recognized as continuous contenders at the international competitions.”
Vestby credits the consistent success of the U of O team to the hard work and dedication of the coaches: Law Professor Anthony Daimsis, Law Professor Anthony VanDuzer and Ontario Court of Appeal Clerk Jolene Hansell.
“It is an amazing feeling (being part of the winning team), and I was very proud to represent the University and our coaches at the global finals,” she said. “The best part of participating in the FDI Moot was the connection formed with my teammates. Just like any team sport, preparing for competition takes long hours and sacrificing personal time.”
The preparation to get to this point began in March, ending with the Global Finals in November.
“The team worked through the summer to draft our written arguments to submit to the competition in early September,” said Vestby. “This portion of the preparation required many long days working together. I have fond memories of crunch time, right before our 3 a.m. submission deadline, when our team was huddled around one computer trying to format an 80-page document. The document was submitted at 2:48 a.m. with only a few personal threats exchanged.”
During the fall, the team practiced delivering their arguments four to five times a week.
“We would plead our arguments to our coaches and against each other,” said Vestby. “In reality, I would plead my arguments against anyone who would listen: my parents – Ronn and Gene Vestby, my cousin – Nicole Vestby, and my partner – Andrew Allan.
“Like any real trial, preparing for the moot was consuming. You live and breathe it. I am very grateful and fortunate that my family didn’t mind me rambling on constantly about the same legal problem for nine months straight.”
Vestby’s experiences while studying for her law degree also include a position as a Research Fellow for The Hague Academy at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, during the summer of 2017.
“This was an eye opening experience for me,” she said. “Having access to the Court was an unparalleled opportunity to meet face-to-face with legal scholars and experts. I was not only introduced to new areas of law, but new legal systems from all over the world.
“I was fortunate to meet many amazing young lawyers from all over the world. Together, we form a unique global network, whose experience and expertise I’ve drawn on numerous times since leaving the Netherlands.
“My experience at the Court really set in motion a lot of dreams and aspirations I have today,” Vestby continued.
She also happened to be the only Canadian accepted to the program at the time.
Currently, Vestby is studying for her Ontario Barrister and Solicitor exam, which is the Law Society of Ontario’s licencing exam.
Once she finishes writing the bar, she will begin her 10-month Articling term at Conlin Bedard, an international trade law firm in Ottawa.
“Mainly, the legal work at Conlin Bedard involves representing Canadian producers who needed protection from foreign goods being sold unfairly into the Canadian market,” said Vestby. “For example, fighting for the protection of Canadian steel producers against imported foreign steel.”
She hopes to stay involved with the FDI Moot, looking to act as an arbitrator for the 2020 Global round in Seoul, South Korea, which may end up being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vestby is also awaiting a final interview to be selected for the 2021 Drafting Committee. If selected, she would be among other international lawyers responsible for drafting the moot problem, set to take place in London in 2021.
In the medium to long term future, Vestby would like to develop an expertise in international trade law and international investment law. The hubs for those practice areas are in Ottawa, Washington, D.C., London, Geneva and Hong Kong.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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