The History, Scope and Effect of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition

The History, Scope and Effect of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition [1959 to the Present]
Brian Murphy

The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition [“Jessup Competition”] is in its 57th year affording many of the best law student litigators in the world the opportunity to let their light shine in peer-level competition in nearly 90 countries. For the most accomplished of them, the Jessup Competition affords the opportunity to compete for the world championship in the International Jessup Competition Rounds, held in Washington, D.C.

The Jessup Competition is the largest and, according to many knowledgeable observers, the most significant moot court competition in the world. Participants have gone on to careers of accomplishment, for the betterment of the rule of law in a troubled world.

This essay will discuss the origins, scope and effect of the Jessup Competition in the world.

Description of the Philip C. Jessup International Law International Law Moot Court Competition, and a Brief History of the Jessup Competition
The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Jessup Competition arose from the pen of then-professors Richard R. Baxter and Stephen M. Schwebel [later President of the International Court of Justice, or World Court], of Harvard University Law School. In 1960 Professor Schwebel wrote a hypothetical legal problem to be addressed in a “friendly” advocacy competition between Harvard Law students, titled, “The Cuban Agrarian Reform Case,“ in order to create a courtroom simulation experience grounded in International Law.” [Source: “The Frost Files: White and Case International Rounds, 27 March-2 April 2016”].

Since 1960, the Jessup Competition has been held annually. Student participation has increased dramatically. In 2016, the Jessup Competition saw participation by thousands of law students from some 600 law schools in nearly 90 countries. More than 130 law schools, representing their law faculties and countries, participated in the International Jessup Rounds in Washington, D.C. [Ibidem]

The Jessup Competition was named for World Court Justice [from 1961 to 1970] Philip C. Jessup, who later joined the faculty of Columbia University Law School, also teaching at a number of other notable universities.

The purpose of the Jessup Competition was to help law students to develop an understanding of and appreciation for the relevance, scope and practice of Public International Law [the law that governs the legal relationships between and among nation-states, in contrast to Private International Law, that governs relationships between and among private parties, including commercial enterprises].

In 1963 the Jessup Competition named its first winners, the championship team from Columbia Law School [which has consistently made a strong showing in the International Jessup Rounds]. In 1968, the Jessup Competition was opened for the first time to non-U.S. law schools.

As the Jessup Competition grew throughout the world, funding sources were the law firm of Shearman and Sterling, and later, White and Case [which also underwrites several national competitions, including in Russia and in regional Jessup competitions in the U.S.A.].

The most successful Jessup teams are invited, after national Jessup rounds, to the international Jessup Rounds, held yearly in Washington, D.C., at the end of March, for a week-long period.

In 2016, the International Jessup Rounds, were held from 27 March to 2 April 2016, with the World Championship Round held on 2 April 2016. The 2016 Final Round Bench consisted of three International Court of Justice [ICJ] present or former judges: Judge Hisashi Owada [Presiding], Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood and [former ICJ] Judge Bruno Simma. In the final round, teams from the University of Pennsylvania [U.S.A.] and the Universidad de Buenos Aires [Argentina] competed for the White and Case World Championship Cup. The team from Argentina won the 2016 White and Case Jessup Cup, as Jessup Competition World Champion.

The 2016 Compromis [Jessup problem] involved electronic surveillance, admissibility of leaked documents in court, preventative detention, and cyber attacks.

Scope of the Jessup Competition: Process
Each Jessup team consists of two-to-five student competitors, who share responsibilities for advocacy as Appellant or Respondent. Each team is given the opportunity to argue both sides of the case before a panel of three volunteer Jessup judges. Team members are judged on their advocacy skills, and also on the erudition and persuasiveness of the written memorials [analogous to legal briefs in domestic legal practice]. Volunteer judges typically are legal academicians or law practitioners, who have demonstrated interest in Public International Law.

A Note on Judging in and for the Jessup Competition
All Jessup Competition participants benefit from the involvement of a broad range of volunteer judges, drawn from private and public law practice, academia, and the judiciary—from the U.S.A. and abroad. Prior judging experience is not required, and Jessup Competition judges are given a range of choices in scheduling their service on three-judge benches.

The Jessup Effect on Legal Education in the World
Much work—typically, hundreds of hours—goes into participation by team members in the Jessup Competition, from extensive legal research of the sources and application of Public International Law in the world. The experience invariably gives participants extensive exposure to the tools of legal research, written and oral advocacy, and the experience of engaging peer-level team members from the world over, in intensively competitive advocacy.

Participation in the Jessup Competition affords an extraordinary professional [and personal] growth experience, that does not leave participants where it found them. For Jessup Competition participants who reach the international Jessup rounds, the experience can be life- and career-changing.

While in the U.S.A., many Jessup Competition participants, in addition to their advocacy experience, have sought and found opportunities to study law at the post-graduate level at universities in the U.S.A. and elsewhere. Jessup Competition participation is considered a major accomplishment by many prospective employers, as well as by graduate admissions officers and scholarship donors.

Enhanced respect for the role and functioning of international courts in supporting the rule of law is a natural concomitant of Jessup Competition participation. Participation in the Jessup Competition has been the catalyst for career-and sometimes life-changing dedication to support for the rule of law in the world.

At the International Jessup Competition Rounds, team members have had an opportunity not only to compete against some of the world’s best aspiring international lawyers, but they were also beneficiaries of opportunities to explore admission to some of the most notable graduate law programs in the U.S.A. and abroad. Numbers of Jessup Competition participants have been selected for scholarship and fellowship assistance, including opportunities provided by the Fulbright Exchange Program for the pursuit of graduate legal [and other] studies.

Summary and Conclusion
Those who have participated in the Jessup Competition over the years have benefitted professionally and personally to a degree out of proportionate size for their highly intensive involvement in the Jessup Competition. From admission to highly selective post-graduate academic programs, including selection as Fulbright scholars, to a more worldly-wise understanding of the place of International Law in the world today, Jessup Competition participation adds much to the education and insights of participants.

Brian C. Murphy, A.B., Harvard University, J.D., University of Virginia School of Law, post-graduate research student of International Law and Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science, served as a Fulbright law lecturer at the University of Sofia between 1992-94 and concurrently as Bulgarian National Administrator for the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. He is an attorney at law and international legal consultant, is retired from the U.S. Department of State, and was a former chairperson, FBA International Law Section. He currently resides in the U.S.A., after supporting the rule of law in some dozen countries for a 20-year period, and, before that, as a public servant in the U.S.A. He can be reached at


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