Fall 2023

In Memoriam

Eric E. Bergsten, ’56

Portrait of Eric E. Bergsten, ’56
Eric E. Bergsten, ’56

Eric E. Bergsten, ’56, of Vienna, died on July 1, 2023, at the age of 91. He co-founded the Vis Moot, a Vienna-based international commercial law and arbitration competition. 

Bergsten dedicated his career and life to promoting commercial law and arbitration with a vision of peaceful dispute resolution. He served as a JAG officer in the Pentagon before continuing his studies in French law at the University of Chicago and in Aix-en-Provence. His doctoral thesis was on the law of treaties in the French courts. 

He taught at the University of Iowa before joining the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in New York as a senior legal officer, where he was primarily responsible for what became the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods. In 1979, the headquarters of UNCITRAL was transferred to Vienna, where Bergsten remained until his retirement in 1991, the last six of those years serving as secretary of UNCITRAL. He then spent seven years on the faculty of Pace University School of Law before returning to Vienna. While at Pace, he and two colleagues established the Vis Moot, which he described as “the best part of my professional career.” 

The first Vis Moot was held in 1993 with 11 teams. After it ended, Bergsten happily said to his wife, Brigitta, “At least it was not a failure.” Today, nearly 400 university teams from nearly 90 countries participate. Bergsten never pursued the idea of the Vis Moot as a vehicle of achieving personal success or recognition; he was simply inspired by the idea of gathering students from all over the world to promote legal education.

Teams from Michigan Law began competing in the Vis Moot in 2018. As part of a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Vis Moot earlier this year, the current team wrote the following to Bergsten:

“The Vis Moot is an unbelievable experience. Not only does it provide a unique opportunity to learn about international commercial arbitration, but it allows us as law students to build skills that will serve us well regardless of our career path. Most importantly, the Vis Moot brings together teams from all over the world.

It is particularly inspirational to know that you were once a law student at the University of Michigan just like us. Your story provides an excellent example for us of how we can use our legal education to leave a lasting impact on the world.”

A group of students pose in front of the Reading Room entrance.
The 2022 Vis Moot team from Michigan Law argued their way to the Round of 64 (from an initial field of 365), the first time a U-M team had made it that far. It was one of only six US teams to compete in that round.
A group of students pose in front of a building in Vienna.
The 2023 U-M Vis Moot team’s oralists at the competition in Vienna.