updated on 17 August 2021
Mooting is one of the best activities you can do to get a sense of what it's like to be a legal advocate, giving you the opportunity to think on your feet and argue your case. It is also an impressive addition to any CV, whether you’re pursuing a career as a barrister or solicitor.
There are mooting competitions at almost every level, from institutional to international, and mooting is not just for the Bar-bound among you. Evidently, it develops key advocacy skills, but it also hones skills useful to all in the legal profession, including research, communication, teamwork and more.
Nicole Zahra, who took part in the Landmark Chambers Annual Planning Law mooting competition in 2019 and an inter-university criminal law mooting competition with Kings College London, urges aspiring lawyers to get involved in mooting. It can often be mistaken that mooting is only for those who want to become barristers, but Nicole dismisses this claim: “The skills you develop are applicable to any job within the legal profession and participating in these competitions demonstrates to employers that you are actively showing an interest in pursuing a career in law.”
It is quite a daunting activity to just dive into it, particularly if public speaking is not your forte, so this guide offers some insight from a number of mooters – most of whom were extremely apprehensive about mooting – to give you an idea of what to expect.
In essence, a ‘moot’ is a competition that centres on a fictional legal appeal case to either the Court of Appeal or to the House of Lords. Two-person teams representing the appellants and respondents each present their arguments before a judge (usually a practising lawyer, lecturer or actual judge) in the setting of a mock court. Each mooter has a limited time to speak and respond to the judge’s questioning.
Mooting may or may not be a compulsory part of your law course – either way, gaining mooting experience can positively influence your future career in the legal profession.
Most university law schools have a mooting or debating society, so there should be opportunities to moot near you. In addition, the four Inns of Court in London each have a mooting society: the Lincoln’s Inn mooting and debating clubs, the Inner Temple mooting society, the Middle Temple Rosamond Smith mooting competition and the Gray’s Inn moot nights. If you’re unsure what the Inns of Court do, you can watch Dani the Barrister’s vlog in which she explains what their role before and during a barrister’s career.
Some of the more well-known UK moots include the ESU/Essex Court Chambers National Mooting Competition and the OUP and ICCA National Mooting Competition. It is even possible to moot internationally – opportunities include the European Human Rights Moot Court Competition in Strasbourg and the Senior Moot, which is run by The City Law School.
UCL Law Society received the award for best mooting activities at LCN’s Student Law Society Awards on Thursday 18 March 2021. The Society’s mooting officers describe the various opportunities available to students both internal and external to the university. Tommaso says: “At UCL we have options for all levels and aspirations. The internal competitions, ‘Junior’ for first years and ‘Senior’ for second and third, are available to all law students and offer the possibility to get introduced to mooting or to perfect one’s advocacy as well as legal research. The UCL Law Society takes part in a large part of the most prestigious external competitions, for which UCL is represented by its most skilled advocates selected through a thorough process. We strive to make external moots accessible to all levels of mooters by organising competitions for beginners as well as advanced candidates.”
Commenting on the success of last year’s Herbert Smiths Freehills Junior Mooting Competition, UCL mooting officer Louis reveals that it had “more than 170 entrants”. On top of this, the society also organises “inter-varsity moots with other universities” so, there’s plenty of scope to get involved.
Harry Samuels, runner-up of the Gray’s Inn Moot Competition 2020, alongside Page Nyame-Satterthwaite, speaks about his mooting experience. “I got hands-on experience presenting complex legal arguments and received feedback on style and presentation from practising barristers and judges – the final of the Gray’s Inn Moot was judged by two High Court judges and a Lady Justice of Appeal!” he exclaims.
If you’re nervous about jumping straight into these prestigious mooting competitions, it is worth seeking out the internal opportunities available to you at university to help build up your confidence and experience.
Nicole emphasises the benefits of both internal and external competitions. Alongside developing your confidence, “you also get to meet lots of new people who you can form a network with”. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Wentworth, whose mooting experience has been vast – despite her initial apprehension – having taken part in the first and second round of a GDL moot, the City Senior Moot, the Criminal Intervarsity Moot and the Francis Taylor Building Kingsland Moot says: “Mooting provides you with a safe platform to develop your advocacy and build your confidence.” So, if speaking in public is not something, you’re overly enamoured by but a career in law is, then taking part in a moot is a great way to conquer your fears. Unlike a game of Scrabble, with a moot it really is the taking part that counts – being able to learn from your experience, take on board the feedback you’ve received, and develop a host of important skills.
Meanwhile, even before the pandemic virtual moots were being designed to reach a broader audience. Laura Allsopp, former president of the National Student Law Society (NSLS) and former mistress of the moots, described one of the ways that the NSLS updated the format in recent years in the form of the UK’s first E-Mooting competition. It required teams to film their submissions and email them to the NSLS, which had the videos judged by academics and practitioners: “It enables all students to participate in mooting without having to incur the cost of travelling across the country. It also has the benefit of enabling teams to plan the moot around their studies and exams. The feedback we have received has been extremely positive, particularly from the first-time mooters who see this competition as a valuable opportunity to see if mooting is an activity they wish to seriously pursue.” Unfortunately, the E-Mooting competition hasn’t taken place for the past couple of years.
However, in October 2020 Quadrant Chambers hosted a virtual speed moot for law students and society members – more than 400 candidates applied to take part in the moot, “a sure sign that students are keen for the opportunities that chambers can provide”. The virtual nature of the moot enabled candidates from across the country to take part. The Herbert Smiths Freehills Junior Mooting Competition also took place virtually last year. Several other mooting competitions were held remotely due to the pandemic, so it is worth checking to see whether you can get involved in any virtual moots as well as in-person competitions.
Mooting can be a fun – albeit demanding – experience. But beyond that, it can help you to develop existing skills and teach you new things that will be beneficial as your legal career progresses.
Advocacy, researching and structuring
“Naturally, advocacy is a main skill you develop during mooting competitions and preparation,” Nicole says.
“I found that the advocacy practice that came with preparing for the competitions helped to boost my confidence, it gave me better understanding of the law and improved my ability to write stronger arguments”.
Harry also considers the skills aspiring lawyers can develop through mooting. Aside from analysis and advocacy skills, which involve “reading the problem, working out what the issues are, researching the law and stitching together your arguments in the most persuasive way”, Harry explains that candidates will “learn how best to present arguments in terms of pacing, structure, style, and emphasis”. Nicole agrees that researching is another important skill that is developed, while also listing “teamwork and cooperation”.
Attention to detail
Winner of last year’s virtual Herbert Smith Freehills Junior Mooting Competition, Aishwarya Shaji picks out several other specific skills, including “eye for detail as you will find seemingly inconsequential facts on which a case could turn”. Referring to a personal mooting experience, she explains: “I remember an important point for my argument was that a given word in the case was plural and not singular, and how that meant my opponent’s argument couldn’t stand.”
Confidence and presentation
However, for many, before these skills can be addressed, it’s more about being able to confidently speak in front of an audience. Laura Paterson, who took part in two internal mooting competitions at Birkbeck, University of London, as well as the 2021 ESU-Essex Court Chambers National Mooting Competition explains that she has developed a “greater command for public speaking” despite initially thinking that mooting sounded “rather terrifying”.
Delving further into this point and looking at public speaking from a different perspective, Irfan Suhail Mohamed emphasises the importance of presentation: “The way you gesture, the movement of your eyes, the cadence and projection of your voice all play important roles in how your argument is perceived by judges”. Irfan has taken part in an internal mooting competition hosted by his university law society, as well as an international, external moot which was held by a commercial law firm in Malaysia.
Philippa Byrne, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) alumni and former NSLS finalist, also makes a point about heightened confidence: “Standing up in a moot room in front of a judge – or panel of judges – is very different to lazily asserting an opinion on the law in a seminar. In a moot you need to have the facts at your fingertips and be prepared to back up your claims, and you quickly develop your own distinctive style of arguing.” She also makes the point that mooting encourages sartorial appropriateness: “Mooting also instils the ability – essential for somewhat scruffy students like me – to dress smartly in formal, legal situations.”
As described above, UK moots will look at a fictional appeal case, concerned solely with a point(s) of law. However, if you are new to the process, it can be hard to imagine the sorts of case you might expect to grapple with. Kicking off with some real-life examples, Harry provides a summary of the various moots he has been involved with over the years: “I have done moots on everything from the defence of duress in criminal law to claims in breach of confidence in media law, causation in clinical negligence, trustee liability in equity, and liquidated damages clauses in a construction contract”. He is keen to emphasise that “there are also specialist moots in specific areas of law”, which are ideal for aspiring lawyers who have a particular interest in a certain practice area.
Page Nyame-Satterthwaite – now a first-six pupil at Two Harcourt Buildings – was a runner-up in the Gray’s Inn Mooting competition in 2020 alongside Harry. Speaking about this experience, Page explains that she “mooted with GDL and Bar course students. The final was based on an appeal for which judgment was recently handed down by the UK Supreme Court on the interpretation of liquidated damages clauses – a case that originated in the Technology and Construction Court.”
A former LJMU/NSLS finalist, Abhishek Lalji, describes one the most interesting moots he has been involved with: “It was a problem on Article 6 of the ECHR, the right to a fair trial, for which the arguments we drew up were quite complex. The argument was risky to a certain extent, which raised the anticipation and anxious energy in presenting it, but it was a rewarding experience being able to use our previously honed advocacy skills to be persuasive and convince the judges.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth explains that each moot she was involved with “covered current, topical areas where there had been a seminal case or piece of legislation within the past few years, including the recent R v Lawrence “conditional consent in criminal law” and a statutory review of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. More recently, Laura Paterson’s moots involved “covid-19 legislation, contract variation and a judicial review in immigration law” and Aishwarya’s “covered contentious issues in criminal law, land law, contract law and tort law”.
Ultimately, “moots can cover every area of law under the sun” as Lily Pollack – former mooting officer at Queen’s University Belfast, and finalist in the UK Environmental Law Association’s annual junior moot in 2019 and semi-finalist in 2020 – puts it. She adds: “I have competed and helped to coach students in moots on criminal law, defamation and judicial review, among others.” Lily’s personal favourite has been the judicial review: “The UK Environmental Law Association has a great annual mooting competition with highly complex environmental law judicial review cases – sinking our teeth into these has been challenging and rewarding!”
Or rather, “What’s in it for me?” Simply put, mooting is the most effective way to get an idea of what conducting an oral legal argument is all about. Your self-confidence will improve, and it looks impressive on your CV, thus enhancing your chances of securing a pupillage or training contract.
Fen Greatley, former NSLS deputy master of the moots, calls it like it is: “The more appropriate question to ask is, "Why shouldn't students get involved?", as there's no reason not to. Aside from the highly valuable transferable skills it develops, it can be a huge amount of fun – and even if isn't, you're able to work out with greater certainty what kind of legal practice would suit you.” He emphasises that it’s not just for would-be barristers: “Even for those who are certain that they want to pursue the solicitor route, most training contracts nowadays require trainees to complete a contentious seat and litigation is a growing area within corporate law.”
UCL’s junior moots officer, Cartman, reiterates this and urges all “aspiring lawyers, regardless of whether they plan to become a solicitor or barrister, to get involved in mooting.” Cartman speaks more specifically about UCL’s mooting programme off the back of the society winning best mooting activities at LCN’s Student Law Society Awards 2021: “Our programme is designed not only to allow students to practise applying the law in real-life scenarios, but also to allow them to escape their comfort zone and practise presentation and oral advocacy skills. Beyond this, mooting will expose aspiring lawyers to invaluable feedback from fellow students and practising advocates on argumentative and critical thinking skills.
“Mooting takes the concepts learnt in the classroom and provides students with an avenue to test their knowledge of such concepts, which is a useful way to revise and allow yourself to think more critically on the application of contentious points of law.”
While mooting is a fantastic experience for all, Harry emphasises the benefits that such an experience offers to candidates who are specifically interested in a career at the Bar: “On an educational level, it is one of the best ways to get a flavour of what a barrister’s job feels like. While no barrister is in the Supreme Court every day arguing over how the law should develop, the day job does involve thinking about papers, analysing facts, and presenting your conclusions, which is what mooting teaches you.” Looking forward to pupillage applications he says: “It also looks very good on your applications: it shows chambers that you know why you want to be at the Bar, and that you have experience doing some of the fundamental aspects of the job.”
Referencing his personal experience, Harry adds: “I obtained pupillage and have been offered tenancy at a set of chambers whose moot I took part back in in 2017.”
As well as the moot offering a “dynamic way to engage with the law” Page explains, being able to confidently speak about your mooting experience in applications and during an interview will always look good. Talking more specifically about aspiring solicitors, Lily offers insight into how her mooting experience helped her vacation scheme to training contract journey: “I’m interested in commercial litigation and during my vacation scheme, I spoke about my mooting experience and how this translated to an interest in litigation, which I think helped me to secure a training contract in the end.” Simply saying you were involved in a moot is unlikely to secure you a training contract spot but being able to explain the moot, your role and what you learnt from it will impress law firm recruiters.
“Mooting is not the easiest of activities to engage in”, Aishwarya says, and law firms and chambers are aware of this. “It will test your perseverance and motivation”” and will help to develop “traits that are highly valued in every profession”, so there’s really no reason not to get involved.
So, you've decided to give it a go – where to from here? The first step is to contact your university or postgraduate provider mooting society or law faculty to find out how to get involved.
Among our resident experts, when asked what they think you need to do to succeed once you're up and mooting, the consensus is that, as with many things in life, practice makes perfect. You can’t expect to just rock up to a moot and smash the advocacy out of the park, so it goes without saying that you must engage in research. “Authoritative textbooks and handbooks are a good place to start to get a basic understanding of a topic. Then you can narrow down your research to particular cases or parts of legislation that you will use in your skeleton,” Elizabeth suggests.
Aishwarya expands on this with 12 tips to help candidates prepare and emphasises the importance of understanding the “grounds on which the appeal has been granted”. After a candidate has put together their skeleton argument Aishwarya recommends that they draft their speech in the same order. How you do this – “word for word or bullet points” – is up to you.
Aishwarya’s penultimate tip, one which we all need to remind ourselves of, is to speak slowly. “It does not matter how great your arguments are if the judge cannot understand them” because you are speaking too fast.
Thinking back to his mooting experience, Harry’s preparation seems to mirror Aishwarya’s. He explains how he prepared: “I would always set aside a couple of hours to read the whole bundle once. I’d then go over it with a highlighter during a second reading. You must absorb all the papers, so the facts and the law are at your fingertips.” Once Harry was confident that he knew the facts of the case he’d begin to develop his own arguments before “putting them in order of strength and then trying to anticipate what his opponent’s best arguments might be” so he could identify any weaknesses in his own position. He adds: “I would then start to put together the building blocks of my submissions and practise saying them aloud over and over until I was comfortable with the main points that I wanted to drive home.”
Irfan agrees that “preparing for potential points of contention that your opponents might have” is key.
Fen adds: “I would simply say that the best mooters are forever honing their technique. They don't get overly complacent but are always self-critical and looking to see what they could have done better. They'll also go along to watch other people moot and recognise strong techniques – even phraseology – that they add to their own arsenal. This is particularly important, because you often need to adapt your style based on how receptive the judge appears to be to your submissions.”
In terms of the resources available, Nicole suggests both “reading your law society’s mooting guide” and reaching out to “lecturers who specialise in that area of law to look over your skeleton argument”. Meanwhile, Page considers the required etiquette, an easy aspect to prepare for but also an easy point to slip up on. “Know your court,” she says.
“Moots are always set as points of appeal, so you may be in the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court – make sure you refer to the judges and your fellow mooters correctly”, Page summarises.
While preparing for a moot is a crucial part to your success, Harry explains the importance of not overdoing it: “Be careful not to prepare too rigidly – the judges will ask questions and you need the flexibility of thinking to respond to them calmly and persuasively.”
Finally, Philippa sums up the simplicity of the road ahead: “I’d encourage anyone considering it to throw caution to the wind and give mooting a whirl.” Go forth and moot!
Olivia Partridge (she/her) is content producer at LawCareers.Net.