It is common knowledge that being successful within the legal profession is challenging, and that is true, however, it is not to say that it’s impossible. With hard work and an unyielding dedication to your chosen career path there are no insurmountable barriers preventing you from having a good shot at securing that elusive training contract or pupillage. With the ever-increasing quality of applicants to the two traditional branches of the legal profession, good academics are no longer sufficient in themselves to carry you through to the final stage of qualifying as a Solicitor or Barrister. It is therefore crucial that you make yourself stand out in as many ways as possible and to start as early as you possibly can; it is never too soon to begin working towards your dream career.
Over the course of the five years that I spent in legal education, one activity in particular was at the forefront of my consciousness, that being mooting. Yes, I am an aspiring Barrister, yes advocacy experience is a tacit requirement for me, however, even if your aspirations are more closely aligned to the mega-bucks and ‘Suits-esque’ glamour of the City firms, I implore you not to turn away, the benefits of mooting will allow you to prosper as I hope will become clear.
So what is mooting? Mooting is in essence a mock trial before an appellate court, where two teams, usually consisting of two members aside, compete against one another in a display of advocacy and intellectual prowess before a judge. The topics a moot can be based upon are as wide ranging as the issues the Law itself regulates, so be prepared for anything from obscure 19th Century Legislation governing the creation of oral wills by soldiers and seamen to the creation of artificial islands in a fictitious sea, as well as those issues central to your academic studies including the creation of a contract and those areas of Land Law that still make many Graduates of the LLB and GDL wake up in a cold sweat calling out for their mothers.
This last point brings me on to an intrinsic benefit of mooting that is often overlooked; no, not a tender hug and some sleepy reassurance to dispense with the terrifying lucidity of your dreams, but rather the innate ability of mooting to improve your educational attainment. From my experience, too few people involve themselves in university and pre-university mooting, with those aiming for the Bar often being as guilty of this as the Solicitors of tomorrow. Why is this? Well, mooting has the habit of taking up an extraordinary amount of free time, especially when you are new to the activity. Many a time in my first year of undergraduate mooting did I neglect the basic requirements of life, sacrificing food, exercise, natural light in the vain hope that supermarket branded energy drink was an adequate replacement; it turns out it’s not. As a University Fresher hit by the seemingly enormous workloads of undergraduate study, the idea of spending every waking moment researching one area of Law puts many first-timers off for life, writing off mooting for being too time consuming and interrupting the balance of academic study and the inevitable partying that the university experience is apparently famous for. Fear not intrepid travellers of the legal path, I give you my word that this time is far from wasted. Not only does the amount of time and stress expended on mooting decrease exponentially with experience, come April, when you first open your Contract Law exam paper in a sports hall full trepidation, you will most likely smile to yourself. I did. Trust me. When you recognise that an entire third of your paper is based on an issue you’ve mooted on, any panic you once had will subside. You can kick back in your undoubtedly unstable chair and provide a level of analysis your non-mooting classmates can scarcely imagine. After all, you spent those many late nights becoming an expert on that topic and now you can reap the well-deserved reward. I was fortunate in that I secured a first class degree, however I don’t attribute this to some element of underlying intelligence within me, I attribute it to the knowledge and research skills I developed through mooting. If you embrace this activity, there is no reason that you too can’t boost your grades by a whole division as I did.
Any article written on mooting has to include some modicum of discussion as to advocacy, however again I call out to you aspiring solicitors to hang in there. Yes, advocacy is of course the natural remit of the Barrister, however that is not to say you will not need these skills as a solicitor. There is a reason advocacy is still a module that you must pass in order to successfully complete the Legal Practice Course, even if it doesn’t contribute per se to the overall mark of the qualification. In certain areas of practice as a solicitor you can expect to be in court almost as regularly as a Barrister, including the higher courts with more and more members of the profession qualifying as advocates. Further, and perhaps relevant to all solicitors here, as time goes by, a fused profession is going to become an ever more likely prospect, and indeed is something I expect to have occurred to some degree by the end of my career. Should the structure of the English legal profession come to resemble more closely that of our trans-Atlantic cousins, even the most diehard of commercial solicitors could expect some time before a judge, so even more reason to consider furthering your oratory prowess sooner rather than later.
The skills developed through mooting can prove a powerful tool in securing a training contract. It is perhaps an activity that many entering the profession have overlooked, however the communication and analysis skills which mooting helps to develop, are equally applicable to more everyday activities of the solicitor including negotiations and problem solving. Such experience will make you different, and different in this game is good. To succeed you need to stand out from the hundreds of other applicants, and you can bet your bottom dollar if you have extensive mooting experience, you will do so and for all the right reasons.
For those of you considering the Bar it is simple. You must moot. The Bar is an incredibly competitive profession to pursue, with less than 400 training places on offer every year, whilst thousands of very highly qualified candidates battle it out to secure a coveted pupillage. Barristers are first and foremost advocates and many more than the lucky 400 who go on to secure pupillage know this. It may sound brutal, however in my experience as an applicant, I believe that it is unlikely that without having been tested out as an advocate in a moot court, you will struggle to even get before a pupillage panel. Conversely, an applicant who has won national and international mooting competitions has the advantage on what is often a very restrictive application form in that they can readily demonstrate that they are capable of doing the very job they are applying for, and when perhaps the Barrister assessing your application has a pile of forms as high as is wide, such a reassurance is invaluable in getting to interview. Admittedly I have not yet secured pupillage let alone sat on a pupillage panel, and these opinions are formed from a combination of my own experience and discussions with Barristers and that which I have heard and seen of others. One thing at least I can say with authority, it can only improve your chances and that means a lot in this game.
If having read this you are keen to embrace this fantastic activity then there are many ways to get involved. If you are at the pre-university stage, Big Voice London runs its own mooting competition for AS and A-Level students in the Spring, whereby you will be paired up with an experienced mooter, with the final taking place at the UK Supreme Court. If you study Law at college or sixth form, ask your Law Department if there are any opportunities on offer there, and if not why not volunteer to set something up and have a further accolade to add to your CV. For those of you who have already begun your legal education, it is never too late to get involved. As far as I know, every University offers some form of mooting, whether that is through the Law School directly or under the auspices of a Law or Mooting Society.
Students at the 2013 Mooting Competition Final at the Supreme Court with Lord Neuberger
Mooting is both a fun and worthwhile activity that will help you to both improve your academic attainment and future job prospects, but perhaps most importantly of all it’s fun, even if you may need reminding of that when it’s 1am and your experiencing a caffeine crash.
Samuel is an aspiring Barrister and has just completed the BPTC at City Law School. His mooting experience includes an undefeated record at the University of Exeter, and having represented the University of Exeter in external competitions including the OUP/BPP National Moot Competition whereby he was a semi-finalist as well as the Phillip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition.