Mooting is one of the best things you can do to get a sense of what it's like to be a legal advocate, giving you the opportunity to get up 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.
Mooting is happening in a place near you. There are mooting competitions at almost every level, from institutional to international, and mooting is not just for the Bar-bound among you. Obviously, it develops key advocacy skills, but it also hones skills useful to all in the legal profession – research, communication, teamwork and more.
Adam Callan, former master of the moots for the London Universities Mooting Shield, sums up what mooting can offer: “Mooting is incredibly challenging both mentally and physically, but it is also incredibly fun and allows you the opportunity to really test yourself, both in managing your time appropriately in the preparation period as well as articulating your arguments in front of someone that knows the law inside out.”
What is mooting?
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.
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.
The University of Sheffield Bar Society recently received the award for best mooting activities at LCN’s Student Law Society Awards on Thursday 12 March, sponsored by the Crown Prosecution Service. Society president Junior Klutse describes the various mooting opportunities available to students both internal and external to the university: “At Sheffield University we have a taster session at the start of the semester, before the lectures have even begun. In this session we normally have about 30 to 40 students who will be divided into groups and asked to work out the arguments for and against a simple contract problem, and then they’ll be asked to do a one-minute presentation.” He adds: “We also run novice mooting opportunities, which are slightly more formal than the taster sessions.”
Speaking about external competitions, Junior identifies the ESU/Essex Court Chambers National Mooting Competition, as well as the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition and the Landmark Chambers Property Moot Competition. While keeping an eye out for mooting competitions is essential, students might also want to look out for mooting opportunities when selecting their modules. Having recently taken part in the Jessup mooting competition, Junior talks about the format of the moot and his experience taking part: “I felt like my legal drafting and research skills developed to a greater level – purely because I was preparing for the moot every week, I spent about 80% of my time on it. After six months of research and drafting, you go to Lincoln’s Inn and moot before people who are experienced in international law”.
If you’re nervous about jumping straight into these prestigious mooting competitions, it is definitely worth seeking out the internal opportunities available to you at university to help build up your confidence and experience.
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 – and reaching out to a broader audience as a result – in the form of the United Kingdom’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 last couple of years, but this successful and accessible format should surely be revived by some enterprising student society.
What skills do you develop?
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.
Adam delves further: “The type of skills it is possible to develop through mooting include those relating to: focused research, as you must pick out only the necessary information from cases; time management, as it is limited and you need to stay on top of everything; camaraderie, as you and your teammate are in it together; and advocacy, as having the opportunity to stand up in front of practising judges and barristers – and get feedback afterwards – is the best experience you can get before entering the legal profession.”
Junior agrees that the input from seasoned professionals is priceless: “The skills you learn on a moot – for example, legal drafting, are not skills you’ll necessarily pick up through your university career. Legal research, legal drafting and skeleton arguments, as well as advocacy are the three core legal skills that students can gain from mooting”. He adds “advocacy is something you don’t necessarily learn until Bar school. This involves communicating effectively, both via written advocacy (ie, the skeleton arguments) and oral communication with the judge”.
In addition to the various legal skills that students can gain from taking part in a moot, Junior also identifies several general life skills, including time management, general analytical skills and critical thinking.
Philippa Byrne, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) alumni and former NSLS finalist, seconds the 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.”
What do moots cover?
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 thing you might expect to grapple with. Kicking off with some real-life examples, Philippa describes her favourite moot so far: “It was a problem based on Williams v Roffey and contractual consideration, and was my favourite simply because everyone has an opinion on that case. The interesting thing about that moot was that by the time we’d researched and practised, we’d completely changed our own opinions about the soundness, or otherwise, of that judgment.”
A fellow 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.”
Talking about his most recent mooting experience, in which he was among the top 20 people of best advocates out of 80, Junior recalls some feedback which he received: “The Jessup moot was a two-day competition and on the first day I read a passage from a treaty, which took about one minute and afterwards I was told that this had disrupted the flow. A moot is supposed to be fast paced and reading things, as well as losing eye contact with the judges should be avoided. Luckily, I was able to make up for this on the second day.”
Why should students get involved?
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 improving 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.”
Adam concurs: “Students considering a career at the Bar or those who just want to improve their public speaking should consider mooting as a way for them to construct an argument in a clear and coherent manner that demonstrates they know the subject matter. Individuals often will not realise that they stammer, make unnecessary hand gestures or have a tendency to move around when they speak. Mooting will stamp these problems out and will allow students to present positively and in a professional manner.”
Junior reiterates this: “It’s not only about the advocacy, but all the other skills you develop as well”. He also highlights the invaluable insight students can receive from legal professionals who are exceptionally well-versed in particular subject areas: “One of the excellent aspects about an external moot is that you generally get judges, barristers, solicitors or practitioners who are really knowledgeable in the moot’s subject area. This is something which is notable for students’ CVs because they haven’t just been mooting in front of law lecturers or tutors, but they’ve actually had real life experience advocating in front of legal professionals.”
There is also much to be gained from spending time with other students who are embarking on the same career journey, as Laura points out: “Mooting can be a good opportunity to meet other students and share experiences about mooting, being a law student and pupillage/training contract applications. Getting involved in competitions such as this enables you to see the advocacy style of different teams and use that experience to develop your skills. Teams are also able to discuss the moot and exchange tips for future development.”
Philippa concentrates on the benefits available specifically to those on the Graduate Diploma in Law, as she is, including broadening her knowledge of the law and exploring areas that she may not otherwise have touched upon: “Until the start of this academic year, I didn’t even know what mooting was, but the LJMU Law Society is really friendly and welcomes beginners. Moreover, external moot competitions afford you the opportunity for glamorous travel opportunities to visit other universities – I, for one, have experienced the delights of multiple stays in Premier Inns. Just like Martha Costello.”
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. Adam urges ever greater amounts of practice: “You need to have all the background information in place, making sure that you research the necessary points and that you understand the problem fully, but ultimately it is all about practising presenting your argument to your teammates and getting them to question you as the judge would. If you are all researching the same problem, then they will know the subject matter as well and so will be able to test you adequately.”
Fen agrees: “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.”
Looking back on his mooting experience, Junior emphasises the importance of practise and offers some techniques to try: “I would recommend practising the moot in front of the mirror and recording yourself. A good way to improve is to focus on one thing that you notice is a bad habit.” Junior adds: “It’s also important to be disciplined in the little things too – sometimes when you’re focusing on something so much, you become lazy and often neglect other aspects of the moot, such as knowing the judges name.”
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!
Top tips on how to become a champion mooter:
- “When you are first presented with your moot problem, go through it all yourself. Try and pick out all of the vital points and the elements that you are going to argue.” (Adam)
- “Have a clear structure. This is essential to being a good mooter because although your points on the law may be strong if the judge of the court cannot follow your argument then you will not be persuasive.” (Junior)
- “It is essential that you work with your partner so you both have a fluid argument. Have confidence in that argument and believe that you can win.” (Stacey)
- “At least half the work is coming up with arguments that really get to the heart of the moot problem, so don’t be afraid to approach your tutors for advice. The tutors at LJMU have been phenomenally helpful in this regard, pointing out law commission reports and cases which otherwise would have passed me by.” (Philippa)
- “Remember that you will normally have been 10 and 15 minutes to present your argument, so only put in the arguments that you think are going to help you and always begin with your strongest one, in case you don’t get past that point!” (Adam)
- “Let the moot occupy its own little space in your brain so that your subconscious has a field day working things out, even while you're consciously taking a break and doing normal stuff, such as eating, sleeping, going to lectures – even watching TV!” (Fen)
- “When preparing, organisation and self-set deadlines are key to a smooth-running team and dynamic, and a good master of moots and researcher are both invaluable resources to have.” (Abhishek)
- “Don’t practice too much! You can be over-rehearsed, which leaves you sounding wooden and causes panic when a judicial intervention interrupts the flow of your perfectly-timed submissions.” (Philippa)
- “Talk slightly slower than your natural talking speed. The speed at which you speak will impact on how persuasive your submissions are. If you talk too fast, you will struggle to convey your point in a clear and persuasive way. However, if you talk too slow you are in danger of sounding monotone and robotic.” (Laura)
- “Have absolute confidence in your argument. You can make the argument seem all the more persuasive and logical just by feigning confidence in what you’re saying.” (Abhishek)
- “Avoid reading from your notes. Know the law, the facts and the judges. One advocate that I would recommend any mooter to observe or watch is Lord Pannick QC. There was a lot of discussion on twitter about his advocacy during the second Gina Miller case – in particular, how simple his language is. Simplicity is key in effective advocacy.” (Junior)
Olivia Partridge is content and engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.