Mooting opportunities for students

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 sills, 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 questioning by the judge.

Mooting opportunities

Most university law schools have a mooting/debating society, so there should be opportunities to moot near you. The four Inns of Court in London also 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 UKLSA National Advocacy/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.

Laura Allsopp, former president of the National Student Law Society (NSLS) and former mistress of the moots, describes one of the ways that the NSLS has 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 of benefit as your career progresses. Adam delves further: “The type of skills it is possible to develop through mooting include those related 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 practicing judges and barristers - and get feedback afterwards - is the best experience you can get before entering the legal profession.”

Laura agrees that the input from seasoned professionals is priceless: “Students will develop their ability to think on their feet, as they justify and defend their arguments. Many moot judges will challenge a mooter’s submissions to test his/her understanding of the law. Such judicial interventions will help students to think under pressure and learn to adapt their arguments to suit their audience.”

For those at the coal face, the nervousness associated with standing up in front of revered members of the profession is outweighed by what can be gained in doing so. Stacey Murrell, a former NSLS quarter-finalist, believes that mooting has helped her “presentation, legal research and analytical skills, and the ability to think on my feet. My confidence has also increased by taking part in different mooting competitions”.

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 practiced, 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.”

It’s not always plain sailing - being able to take the rough with the smooth is one of the key skills that any lawyer must develop. Adam recalls a difficult moot, where he and his teammate spent “every waking hour on our preparation and we felt confident with our argument”. The moot centred on a man that had used the services of a dating agency (Adam’s client) which took the details of what the claimant wanted in a date and arranged for a meeting with a woman. When the two met, the claimant did not find the woman attractive and demanded a refund.

Adam explains how things unfolded during the moot: “In arguing the case, I made the point that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, it seems that perhaps due to my lack of sleep from preparing and the number of hours I had spent convincing myself of my argument, I came across as unwavering and aggressive to the judge. This was a clear case of not seeing the other side of the coin! I thought that I had performed well and presented the argument clearly, which according to the judge I did. However, he also said that I came across a bit strong and needed to tone down my response to the interjections.” Taking such feedback on board is just one of mooting’s ongoing development opportunities, although Adam was thereafter known as “The Hulk” among his teammates: “As a laidback person normally, to see the passion that came out during the moot, perhaps the nickname was fitting!”

Why should students get involved?

Or rather, “What’s in it for me?” Simply put, mooting is the best 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/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.”

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 GDL, 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.”

What now?

So you've decided to give it a go - where to from here? The first step is to contact your university/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 practicing 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.”

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!

Ten 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)
  • “Limit the amount of notes you take into the moot with you - having too many notes will encourage you to rely on the prompts in front of you, which will impact on how persuasive you are.” (Laura)
  • “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)

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