Mooting prepares real world-class advocates

By Alicia Patterson

Melbourne Law School has had great success in moot competitions over the last 12 months, not just in Australia but internationally. Students and alumni tell us what it's like testing your skills on a world stage.

The court environment and the legal problem might be simulated, but it's a very real competition of mental agility on a global scale. It's the best chance any law student will have to test their ability to win a legal argument – and what really makes a great legal team.

"It's not just a case of liking a competition," said Eamonn Kelly, final year JD student who was runner-up (with team mate Georgia Boyce) in the 10th Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot in Hong Kong earlier this year. "If you have to get up on your feet and argue something in a short time frame, you really have to know the subject matter."

And develop a confident, adaptable public speaking style. While advocacy styles vary between cultures and legal systems, international moots offer insights into universal best practice.

Mooting teaches you just how much you can achieve in a compact space of time. It's also real practice for what you do professionally …

"A forceful, aggressive approach never works; you learn very quickly that you can't be convincing if you shout a judge down and that's true regardless of where you are," explained Eamonn.

Preparation for an international moot requires dedication, including during summer holidays, and immersion in the subject. Teams are supported by academic staff who provide guidance and administrative support, and help them hone their arguments.

"After the months of preparation, and several rounds of competition, I almost started believing that the countries in question [in the moot] were real," said Josh Anderson, one of the five-member Melbourne team ranked 5th in the world's largest moot – the Phillip C Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington DC in April.

The benefits of mooting extend well beyond the university campus.

"It gave me a lot of confidence in my capacity to conduct research independently," said Josh, who was awarded Best Oralist in the preliminary rounds of the competition which attracts more than 500 teams globally.

Alumnus David Heaton, who has since worked as an Associate to High Court Justice the Hon. Kenneth Hayne AC and at King & Wood Mallesons, is a past member of two moot teams: the Jessup, and the team which won Melbourne's first European Law Students' Association Moot Court Competition on the law of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva in 2007. In 2011 the Melbourne WTO moot team again won the competition – for the third time – becoming the only institution to win more than once.

"Mooting teaches you just how much you can achieve in a compact space of time. It's also real practice for what you do professionally: explaining clearly an idea, and reacting to questions clearly and correctly," said David.

He added that learning to stay calm even when an argument isn't gaining ground is critical, along with teamwork and learning to 'read' judges.

"You learn to pick up the cues that show they're engaged and whether they're sufficiently convinced."

Barrister Philip Solomon SC is a Melbourne alumnus who now judges mooting competitions. He is consistently impressed with the quality of advocacy (including written submissions) he sees. He cites one moot, in which he was one of a panel of five judges who grilled mooters from all angles: "The poise of the students in dealing with the different panel members was, frankly, outstanding."

He confesses that times have changed since his first moot where he was advised to 'loosen up' and move his shoulders more: "No doubt that was good advice. But the emphasis of judging now is more focused, more directed to legal issues and more personally tailored to each individual as an advocate," he concluded.

Image: The Melbourne Jessup Moot Team in Washington: (L–R) Suzanne Zhou, Alex Maschmedt, Josh Anderson; (standing) student coach Tim Lau, Katherine Yang, Ben Murphy and Professor Andrew Mitchell.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 7, May 2012.