updated on 19 March 2021
I should start this with a disclaimer; I am not in any way a mooting expert. The amount of time I have spent in an active moot is far from protracted and I am resolutely a fledgling in the field. However, I want to tell you how much I value it, and how transformative it has been in connecting me to my subject and what I hope will be my career.
How I got involved with mooting
Mooting first appeared on my radar when I applied to study. It looked a bit out of my league, rather terrifying and something other people would do very well at. Despite, or maybe because of, this I really wanted to give it a try. Moot training at Birkbeck, University of London is phenomenal and is run by two highly-esteemed barristers. As much as doing the training was important, I also wanted to see what actual barristers were like (my knowledge was somewhat limited to Keir Starmer, my first boyfriend’s Mum who qualified but never practised and Maxine Peake, who actually isn’t even a barrister in real life).
The week preceding the training was tricky. I have always been aware of how competitive, inaccessible and inaccessibly expensive getting into the legal profession would be, but it was really hammered home in teaching sessions that week.
My route to becoming a law student has been far from non-linear which compounded the feeling of being left behind. Having spent a week feeling semi-tragic, I abandoned the idea of mooting. The morning of the training came, and I was still rather blue but on a whim googled the two barristers and saw that one of them was from the same rural area as me. This ignited something in me – someone from home was a barrister of repute. It was time to get training.
My first attempt
Now, at this juncture I would love to say that my first attempt at advocacy in training was revelatory – that I was phenomenal, received a standing ovation via Zoom and the Inns of Court were planning (all four of them, no less) to duel simultaneously for my membership. This is very much not the case. I was atrocious; this is not false modesty, but plain fact. I would say my performance was like a runaway train but that would be to overstate its elegance. It was more akin to the handbrake being left off a minibus and watching it haphazardly descend a hill; I could see it happening, couldn’t really do anything about it and put my hands over my eyes for five minutes once it was all over.
Surprisingly, one of the trainers said he wanted to see me compete the following week; I thought he was being charitable. But actually, once I had regained sensation back in my feet, I realised it had actually been the best experience. I had structured my own argument under real time pressure, and delivered it, somehow, while judicial interventions from a formidable criminal barrister whistled past my ears. I wanted to get better and see how far I could go, which is all I have ever wanted to do in law. And so, I did. Maybe it is the authenticity of preparing targeted submissions, knowing you will be advocating to professional practitioners or the extreme focus triggered by something you feel real affinity with, but the reading of case law becomes more real and relevant when you are using it to serve your own ends and it makes everything seem a bit more attainable. You start to feel like a real law student – not just someone attending lectures online and reading rather a lot of judgments.
My experience as a woman
As a woman, there is an added angle to this. It is frequently made known to us by means conspicuous and covert that having a strong opinion and the inclination (let alone the aptitude) to express it is not ok. Our voice and what we have to say is too often unwelcome and unheard. I have sat in business meetings where bosses have raised a hand, mirroring a traffic warden, when female members of staff have tried to speak; I have had someone tell me I had the vocabulary of a Victorian (and yes, they did consider it to be a bad thing) and have had someone say disappointedly “you know a lot, don’t you?”.
When mooting, the ability to engage your brain and the (Victorian standard) tongue in your head simultaneously and be pretty sharpish about it is not only necessary, it is lauded. Your wits and delivery are assessed, not you. It has been revelatory. It is so cool.
I must add here that I really ‘don’t know a lot’, I still have a great deal to learn. That said, within my first term of mooting, I did win an internal competition for individuals at my law school and the school’s team competition with a partner, plus I have also competed nationally. I would encourage all aspiring lawyers to try mooting. I assure you, if I can do this and enjoy it you absolutely can.
I was fortunate to have two ace moot partners who were patient, bright as quicksilver and generally brilliant to work with. They were by my side while I was finding my voice and also while it was heard.
Why get involved?
My mooting experience enhanced my confidence and proficiency in public speaking. Receiving targeted and considered feedback on communication and mooting from those who advocate professionally is invaluable. On top of this, written work will be assessed throughout degrees, while oral performance is comparably less so. If you advance into advocacy as a vocation then spoken competency is naturally paramount. If your career trajectory differs, success in job interviews, meetings, presentations, negotiations is bolstered by deft and assured verbal communication, which can be developed via the mooting process.
In our initial training we were asked to approach mooting with an open mind, be scrupulously prepared and see where it takes us. I cannot think of more apt and inspiring guidance for any aspiring lawyer.
Laura Paterson is an aspiring lawyer.