Moot points

Its not quite Eminem, but the world of mooting still requires vocal dexterity, an ability to think on your feet and, as Kian Ganz discovered at the annual London University Mooting Shield final, its great training for aspiring lawyers

Moot pointsHis palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, theres vomit on his sweater already, moms spaghetti.

Thats more or less how I felt and how you too may feel before your first moot. Indeed, vomit and spaghetti aside perhaps, mooting is not dissimilar to Eminems account of battle rapping, although you are likely to have more than just one shot at it. And you will be wearing a suit as opposed to oversized trousers and a hoodie.

Mooting is, at its heart, a battle of wits, like a debate but with tighter constraints the limits of the law and the language of the court making it even more difficult.

It originally came about as a game for aspiring barristers to prove their mettle in a safe arena, where they could joust away from the life-and-death seriousness of a real courtroom.

For those who want to go to the bar, or the American bar as in the case of Krishan Thakker, co-founder and vice-president of the London University Mooting Shield (LUMS) competition, mooting can be a real boon. In fact, mooting will take up a large part of your Bar Vocational Course.

Ive certainly benefited from mooting, says Thakker. It creates a platform between students studying law and those who wish to go into practice, but its a skill that can be transferred to any profession.

Just because someone has done very well in mooting doesnt mean they should automatically go to the bar solicitors also have to research case law and back up arguments in negotiations and sometimes in court, says DLA Piper graduate recruitment officer Claire Evans. I was too scared to do it at uni and too lazy, so I respect anyone who did it, she adds, saying it can be a real boost in training contract applications, for example. It is useful for training you to think on your feet, improving your teamworking skills and organisation and it shows a real commitment to finding out more about the career.

And, as a bonus, should any of the areas of law you have mooted on come up in your exams, youre likely to ace them.

The LUMS mooting competition final was held on 22 April 2008, between two teams of three students each from Kings College London (KCL) and University College London (UCL). It had taken the two teams five months of mooting their way through several qualifying rounds to get to the mock court erected in the spacious auditorium of magic circle law firm and co-sponsor Allen & Overy (A&O).

Being in the middle of their secondyear exams, preparation time for the mooters had been limited and they scrabbled through their notes, organising their skeleton arguments and cases one last time before the crunch.

The fictitious case before them was about siblings Jack and Jill who were living in their parents house in London.

They were enjoying the ideal student life, waking up late every morning, until their neighbour, Jane Hubbard (aka Mother Hubbard), began holding ceremonies in her front garden, dancing naked, chanting to Guantanamera and letting off fireworks at sunrise, every day.

The siblings went to court, alleging private nuisance and seeking an injunction against Mother Hubbard. The court was sympathetic but refused the injunction because Jack and Jill had no proprietary interest in the property, which belonged to their parents. The High Court judge also held that Mother Hubbard and her cult had the human right to celebrate their religion.

The Court of Appeal decided similarly, so the siblings appealed to the House of Lords, where our mooters now found themselves in a tricky situation. Counsel for Jack and Jill, KCL, had to persuade the judges that no proprietary interest is necessary to establish a private nuisance, but the case law was stacked against them. Alternatively, they could rely on a tenuous argument based on Mother Hubbards counsel, UCL, in turn had to fend off those arguments, as well as take a stab at defending Mother Hubbards right to sing and dance naked and let off fireworks at dawn under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

Still rifling through their folders, the mooters are interrupted when the three judges enter and the teams and 50-odd spectators all rise. Barrister Andrew Onslow QC from 3 Verulam Buildings presided over the proceedings, with barrister John Critchley from Field Court Chambers and A&O tax partner Brenda Coleman supporting him.

Senior counsel for KCL, in real life second-year law student David Prowse, began with the submissions in the typically archaic register of the English courtroom: Would it please your lordships… He started by going through the tried and tested mooting pattern as set out in his skeleton argument: telling the judges how many points you have, outlining and then detailing them, referring the judges to case law where appropriate.

But he did not get very far before Onslow interrupted his flow. Are you asking us to overrule Hunter v Canary Wharf? he asked incredulously. No, I would ask your lordships to reconsider the case in light of the European Convention of Human Rights on policy grounds.

Expert Advice

We all realise that mooting, particularly at an early stage, can be a scary experience, says Andrew Onslow QC, one of the LUMS judges. So what advice does he have for the novice mooter?

Read the papers properly. Three or four times. Discuss the case with your mooting partner, if you have one. If you have no partner, talk about it with your colleagues because talking your way through the issues helps you to identify what the best arguments are and the best way of expressing them. Take time and care over your skeleton argument because again that will help you focus on what your best arguments are.

Competitions usually give you around two weeks to prepare your case and Krishan Thakker, co-founder of LUMS, recommends that team members should spend around 15-20 hours between them in preparation.

On the presentational side, Onslow advises you to go and watch somebody else mooting or to go to the high court to see how advocates argue points of law, to see how they engage with the judge and how they use notes.

From a judging perspective, Onslow says he is looking for arguments that are succinct and to the point. He wants engagement with the judge in other words, eye contact and not looking down at your notes or your boots.

And finally, he says: Im looking for composure. Somebody who is able to convey in a low key and relaxed way their best points without, frankly, getting overexcited.

Despite senior counsels admirable composure in his replies, Onslow was not impressed and counsel was forced to move on to his second argument. And throughout both sides submissions the judges continued to ruthlessly expose any hole, flaw or weakness in the mooters arguments, trying to throw them off balance. You might have thought Simon Cowell was bad, but a leading QC and two experienced legal practitioners grilling you on your logic, reasoning and legal research can make even the most talented student of law lose their thread.

But the teams powered on, holding their ground, mostly until the impassive facade of the judges gave way to levity as the final submissions were being heard and Onslow asked UCLs second junior counsel to justify how fireworks at 5am would not constitute a prima facie nuisance in any case. The audience tittered and counsel submitted that a nuisance during daylight hours is acceptable because people can be expected to be awake at 6am. Critchley joined the melee and asked sarcastically: 365 days a year? Does the day ordinarily start for students at 6am? The judges grinned, the mooters smiled and the audience giggled appreciatively at the break in tensions.

And then before you knew it, the allocated 80 minutes of submissions were over and the judges retired to deliberate their verdict. The mooters paced about nervously for 15 minutes until the judges returned to deliver their judgments.

The court allowed the appeal from Jill and Jack on the grounds of private nuisance but dismissed the public nuisance claim and the counterclaims of Mother Hubbard. However, they proposed to draft the order to allow Mother Hubbard to let off fireworks between 6pm and 11pm on 5 November.

Then the true judging started and the scoring of the mooters advocacy was announced. KCLs senior counsel David Prowse won Oralist of the Season, having received the most individual points during the LUMS competition.

However, UCL clinched the overall 2008 LUMS team trophy, even though they lost the appeal for their client on the law. They scored just marginally higher than KCL across the categories of presentation and clarity of argument, use of authorities, dealing with judicial intervention and courtroom manner.

Amid the post-mortems the contestants all looked visibly relieved, tucking into the canapes and drinks. But it is unlikely to be their last effort at mooting it provides an addictive burst of legal adrenaline and most keep coming back to it once hooked.