As a graduate with a non-law degree who spent most of my undergraduate years doing other, non-law related extra-curricular activities, I turned up on my first day of the BPTC having never took part in a moot. After many individuals, ranging from students to tutors to practitioners, telling me that mooting is the best way to evidence your advocacy abilities and commitment to the Bar, I naturally had reservations about my lack of experience in what I had been told was a vital activity.
However, is mooting really as valuable an experience as many people argue it is?
Without intentionally sitting on the fence, my answer to the above is that, whilst mooting has significant, obvious benefits and is something that I would recommend any student going to the Bar to take part in, it is not the be all and end all and its value can often be exaggerated. Most importantly, if, like me, you start the BPTC having never mooted, do not worry. It’s not too late to start and, even if you don’t realise it, many of your other experiences are likely to be just as valuable.
Turning firstly to what I think is the most significant benefit of mooting and the reason why you should consider taking part; mooting provides specific, court room style advocacy experience. Without wanting to neglect the other skills tested by a moot, you will only be successful in a moot court if you present oral arguments persuasively, adhere to court etiquette and successfully respond under pressure to judicial interventions.
In relation to the Bar course, since you will have to do all three of the above, the earlier you start to master these skills the better. Anybody who says they aren’t nervous when standing up to take part in advocacy for the first time is, in my opinion, lying. Therefore, if you start to obtain advocacy experience through mooting during your undergraduate years, you will be far more confident in your advocacy abilities and far more prepared for your first advocacy class on the BPTC. You will have the basics mastered before the BPTC even starts and this will be of obvious help in comparison to someone like me who stood up in Advocacy 1 having never before done a ‘proper’ piece of court room advocacy.
Also, advocacy potential will always be a key factor considered by Chambers when choosing who to interview and who to take on for pupillage. Many sets directly asked me in interview what advocacy experience I had as an open-ended question. If you are struggling to evidence such experience, either by mooting or by other ways which are discussed later, mooting can be a quick and simple way to enable yourself to answer such questions.
Further, if you are in the fortunate position to be interviewing for pupillage before the BPTC, early experience of advocacy will help you immensely. Although many sets claim that their pupillage application process accommodates pre-BPTC students, it is likely that an advocacy exercise of some sort will be involved. I can’t imagine many of you would want so much riding on your first, nerve-wracking, piece of advocacy. Starting early with mooting could make the difference between a successful or disastrous interview.
Turning then to why, in the opinion of me and many practitioners whom I know from discussions share the same view, the value of mooting can often be overstated.
Firstly, a moot is far from a perfect replica of court room advocacy. Moots are based on fictitious scenarios, deliberately designed to be finely balanced to maximise the benefit for both sides and are over points of law only. Your preparation will therefore be dominated by legal research and your involvement in factual analysis, application and evaluation is often limited. Additionally, depending on your intended practice area, a moot may neglect the type of advocacy, such as witness handling and jury speeches, that will form the bulk of your later career. Whilst this does not erode the aforementioned benefits of mooting, I suggest that involvement in mooting alone may not provide the experiences and skills required by a well-rounded, multi-functional advocate. Going further, over reliance on mooting from an early stage may even limit your understanding of what a barrister actually does.
Secondly, mooting is not the only way to obtain the confidence and communication skills often boasted by the best advocates. Other methods include similar court room activities, such as plea in mitigation and witness handling competitions, or involvement in:
- Delivering public speeches generally
- Volunteering with the Free Representation Unit/Citizens Advice Bureau
- Working as a police station representative
- Working as a salesman/negotiator
- Theatre/Performing arts/Acting.
Personally, given the political nature of my undergraduate degree, I spent a lot of my undergraduate years debating. Consequently, debating featured predominantly on my pupillage applications and appeared frequently in my interviews. I am now a strong believer that debating successes can evidence advocacy abilities to the same, or to an even greater, extent as a moot.
For instance, debates often cover broad topics and you will be required to respond to opposition arguments which you may not have previously considered. Also, debates are often held before a lecture hall full of people, as opposed to a court room of five, and may therefore do far more for your self-confidence than a moot. Finally, debating gives you the freedom to present an argument however you wish, in a way where you are not bound by the structures of legal submissions. For students wanting to pursue a career in a field where ‘flair’ is seen as vital, your interviewers may want to see evidence of advocacy abilities beyond those tested by what is a fairly rigid and overly structured moot.
To conclude, I do not wish to minimise the value of mooting, but simply place its value in context with the wider profession. I strongly believe that mooting is something that you should take part in; whether this be pre, during or post the BPTC. It probably is the closest thing to court room advocacy short of actually being in court. Even if mooting is not the best example of your advocacy potential, it will probably help to tell an interviewer that you have taken part in mooting before going on to WOW them with the other experiences which have made you the potential advocate that you are. But, there is no need to be worried when you come across candidates who have numerous competitive victories on their CV’s.
Mooting is just one thing which can make a potential advocate and their application stand out.