I was in my first year of studying law, naive and unseasoned as could be, when I first heard of ‘mooting’. When the term first fell upon my ears, every weird image was somehow conjured up in my head.
Naturally, I had no idea what it meant. It just sounded like any other fancy, and pretentious fragmented Latin phrase that was prone to overuse in the legal sphere – words such as jurisprudence and ad hominem, Terra Nullius and quid pro quo… Words which I skimmed over when reading my notes and which I largely dismissed and trivialised as mere legal fluff.
Naturally, the first thing I did was consult Google, which then informed me that ‘moot’ was a word to describe something trivial or ‘lacking in relevance’. At this point, I was beyond baffled – perhaps Kirby J or some other legal authority had really lost their heads from reading too many pages of judgement and started labelling things nonsense words.
Turns out, as I would later find out, and as with many words in the English language, the word ‘moot’ consisted of more than one meaning –
- subject to debate or contentious
- having little or no practical relevance
3. in legal terms: a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case as an academic exercise; the traditional bloodsport or extra-curricular activity run as tradition in many law schools, where participants take part in simulated court proceedings.
Mooting is, I suppose, a contraction of the word ‘mock court’ (I suppose I’m not wrong to assume this?)
Imagine your favourite courtroom drama that you and your family watch over your roast dinner – the perfectly polished hardwood bar table; the stern looking robed judge perched behind the Bench, adorning an abundance of faux curls and wigs; the Counsel exchanging mean looks and memorandums to the opposition, and the bespectacled solicitor haphazardly shuffling his papers, a sassy blonde barrister named Elle Woods, perhaps – now imagine this playing out in a smaller, academic context (minus the robes and wigs – I suppose).
Mooting is a popular tradition in many law schools – it is usually run like a competition, with two teams presenting on the night before an adjudicator. It’s similar to a traditional debate, yet is nothing like it in the sense that a debate is more of a presentation of argument where the heat of the issue is rallied back and forth between teams, while a moot tends towards an intense legal battle of the wits, following all the protocol and procedure found in a traditional courtroom. Teams in mooting roughly consist of two or three people each, representing the client as senior counsel, junior counsel and one solicitor.
The submissions of the appellant are presented first followed by the countering arguments of the respondent (or plaintiff, followed by defendant – depending on whether the case is heard on appeal or first instance), and the judge can interrupt submissions at any time to clarify points raised by the parties or interrogate Counsel on a weak or faulty flow of logic or argument. This was what I was naturally most worried about – being grilled by a judge and not knowing the appropriate way to respond or stand firm in the face of the credibility of my arguments being questioned. Being interrupted, is of course, not something that can occur in traditional debating, but since a moot takes after a simulation of a real court environment, judges toughen it out on Counsel and don’t hesitate to chip away at your credibility.
I’d never taken part in a moot prior to the night of the competition, but I jumped at the opportunity this year, as I felt like the experience of law school would not be complete without having given mooting a try. There was also some strategic motive for my participating, considering it was the last year that my team mates and I would qualify for the junior division – which was only limited to disputes related to the areas of criminal, tort and contract law, whereas in the senior division, legal issues could be drawn from any area of law, considerably widening the scope and level of difficulty of the moot.
A few days after registering for the competition, the problem question was released to us in the format of a case question, involving a legal issue and dispute between an appellant and respondent party. Unsurprisingly, there were many references to Suits USA in the question (typical!). Our case question related to tort law, specifically the torts of false imprisonment and negligence and the duty not to engender psychiatric harm. Unfortunately, we were only given three days to prepare a written memorandum – a skeleton outline of our arguments and case authority we were relying on and our entire written speeches and submissions for the night. This was a notably tight deadline and much of our teammates stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to meet the oppressive schedule. Equally as unfortunate, the case concerned an area of unresolved law – namely that of a duty of care that extended to work colleagues (a novel duty situation), and a claim for damages resulting from psychiatric harm as a result of damage to property (in this case, the negligent killing of a cat; pets are given proprietary status in Australia; neither is psychiatric harm resulting from witnessing destruction of property actionable in Australia).
The dress code for the night was corporate wear. Food and drinks were provided at registration, where competitors mingled in the law building foyer, before heading off into separate rooms to where the moots were taking place individually. Luckily, our team, the opposing team and the judge for the night were the only people in the room, and there was not audience watching our moot take place, which made it considerably less nerve-wracking for all of us, who were mooting for the first time. We didn’t make it to quarterfinals, unfortunately. To be fair, of the forty teams that registered for the competition, only eight made it to that stage.
Mooting is a great experience – one that is definitely highly insightful and beneficial to anyone studying law. Before I end my post today, I want to raise some reasons why you should get involved in mooting:
1. You learn so much in a practical simulation that you wouldn’t in a classroom
Lectures and tutorials are bland. There is only so much that the tutor or lecturer can teach you and its simply not the same as being able to completely immerse yourself in the position of a barrister or solicitor in a courtroom and be able to argue out the facts of a problem scenario before a judge.
2. Time management!
We struggled to stay afloat with the workload involved in participating in the mooting competition, as the deadlines were extremely tight. Failing to hand in memorandums before the specified deadline would result in disqualification from the competition. Mooting challenges you to work to your limit and push boundaries and work faster and smarter.
3. Develop research, argumentative and analytical skills
To build arguments, we had to dig up case law from different jurisdictions, even the oldest, most remote legal principles with the most tenuous links to the case before us to make a convincing argument in an area of unsettled law. This meant searching up legal databases, spamming the Ctrl+F function on the computer and a whole lot of Googling and digging up our lecture notes from first year law.
We scrutinised every little bit of the case facts for leverage in our arguments and squinted at our opposing teams memorandums until or eyes and head hurt – trying to pre-empt and rebut whatever the opposing team would raise in court. Mooting is a great way to develop a skill or knack in arguing persuasively and cleverly with people in an educated manner, and it does wonders for your ability to hone down on key principles and important details.
4. Hone public speaking skills
If content makes up for a significant part of any debate, presentation is equally as important. We were assessed on the manner in which our submissions were presented before the court – our tone, pitch, and how confident and convincing we sounded. Although mooting for the first time is nerve wracking, it definitely gets easier over time, as you get accustomed to the format of the competition and the environment – and we found ourselves speaking, even, for the whole 20 minutes of the prescribed time limit, without much trouble
5. Have fun
This one is arguable. I mean mooting was pretty damn stressful – but hard work pays, doesn’t it? We had a good giggle at all the Suits USA references, shared a few inside jokes, and laughed at our own stupidity during the competition. I think I’ll definitely remember and look back on this moment of my law school journey rather fondly in years to come. No regrets. Never.