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A moot point

|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh
A moot point

As another year begins and a new group of potential lawyers walks through the doors of law schools across the country, many will ponder the opportunities available to them outside of the regular course load. 

An obvious part of the choice, whether you’re willing to admit it or not, is how it will help you land a job.


Time is limited — there are papers to be written, exams to study for, and interviews to stress over. Choosing how to fill your spare time is not something that should be taken lightly. Practising your Guitar Hero skills on the Wii might seem like fun, but it’s probably not going to be all that helpful on your resumé. So if not video games, then what useful options are there? How about considering a competitive moot program. Not only is it a strategic decision for developing practical skills, it can also be quite a bit of fun. You’ll have the chance to meet and work with new people, make valuable professional contacts, explore new areas of law, and develop your self-confidence.


Many students think competitive moots are reserved for those interested in pursuing litigation or advocacy down the road. Not so, says Meghan Thomas, director of professional development at the Toronto office of Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. “Even transactional lawyers need really good presentation skills. And they need to be able to respond to questions that are put to them on an impromptu basis. I think those are all very transferable skills.”


While Thomas recognizes there are many activities students can get involved in to help boost their job application to the top of the pile, she can’t see anything negative about choosing a mooting program over the other options.


Jill Houlihan served as a co-chief justice on the moot committee in her third year of law school at the University of Toronto. “Mooting was one of the best experiences I had at law school,” said Houlihan. “It gives you a chance to develop advocacy skills that you might not learn in the standard academic program.”


Don’t think that the moot will be all about your presentation skills, though. The written component of the submissions is another critical factor. FMC is a sponsor of the Gale Cup Moot, a national competition attended by most law schools across the country. “In the Gale there’s a full factum requirement, so the students are evaluated based on their facta, as well as their oral presentation,” says Thomas.


In terms of must-have skills in the legal field, much can be said about the importance of excellent writing abilities. A legal research and writing class is helpful, but a competitive moot will take you up to the next level.


Combining persuasive, reader-friendly factum writing with the ability to compile a major legal paper will make you a more well-rounded individual. “The kind of research I needed to do in mooting was often very different from what I would do for an academic paper,” says Houlihan.


Don’t think that you’ll have to do it all on your own. Teamwork is an essential part of the moot. It’s a valuable experience, and something a lot of students tend to overlook after becoming accustomed to the competitive nature of the law school environment. Working in teams is an adaptation that many students articling with large firms are surprised to see, says Thomas. And teamwork is not always something that law schools foster. “Law school is very individually focused, so I think sometimes it’s an adjustment when students come out of school and they realize that a lot of the legal work they do, they’re doing in teams. It’s a collaborative process. Even without the competitive piece — just the fact that you do almost all of your work on your own — you do reading, and you prepare for exams, and you write papers . . . but there’s not a lot of group work.”


Mooting will take a large portion of your time. Preparation and organization are keys to success, but recruiters know that and will appreciate the commitment your decision demonstrates. With that being said, 4Students offers a few practical tips to help you along your journey. Just remember that winning isn’t everything — make the most of the experience.

WATCH YOUR WARDROBE
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but proper attire is essential for gaining the respect of your judges (and opposing counsel). There’s no need to go out and buy the most expensive suit you can find, but be sure to dress in a manner that conveys professionalism. Many students find their clothing choices can also help to boost their self-confidence level. Since mooting courses aren't always optional, some people may be less comfortable than others with getting up in front of a panel to present their side of the story. If you’re extremely nervous, think of it as a game — and the right outfit as part of your arsenal. This can help you to stand back and get some perspective on the situation. You’re putting on your uniform and giving it your best shot to win.

ORGANIZATION IS ESSENTIAL
Binders, tabs, sticky notes, and highlighters can be law students’ best friends. A trip to your local stationery store will serve you well. On the day of your moot, have a binder that’s divided into several sections. The use of a ringed binder will ensure your papers stay in place, and you won’t be feverishly sorting through loose documents when the judges throw you a curveball. (Watching papers drop to the floor in front of you is a sure-fire way to lose focus.) Knowing exactly where to find the information you need will keep you on track. “Preparation is the key to being relaxed during the moot. You need to know your arguments inside and out and be able to anticipate what questions you might be asked,” says Houlihan. “The more you can go through your submissions in practice runs, the more comfortable and confident you will be.”

DON’T BE AFRAID TO STALL
Stalling techniques that give you extra time to think can be extremely helpful, as long as they aren’t overused. If you’re truly stumped on a question, ask the judge to rephrase it. You may have completely understood what he or she was asking the first time around, but the extra 20 seconds it takes to repeat the question will let you sort out the response in your head. Don’t confuse this with putting off the question. Under no circumstances should you inform the court that you will “get to it later,” even if you have a carefully crafted script waiting for you in the next few pages of your notes. You should be able to move around the various parts of your argument with ease, and some judges will intentionally try to throw you off by jumping ahead. Answer them, and segue back to your original point.

REMEMBER WHAT YOUR MOTHER TAUGHT YOU: USE YOUR MANNERS
It might seem fairly obvious, but being polite goes a long way. Refer to the judges by their proper title. And don’t forget that pleasantries apply just as much to the judging panel as they do to your opposing counsel. Getting defensive with the voices of authority can lead you down a road that you should best avoid. “I think mooters sometimes need to remember that questions from the bench can be helpful and are really what the moot is all about,” says Houlihan. So see the questions for what they are — dialogue with the court and an opportunity to help strengthen your position. From Houlihan’s law school experience, “the dialogue with the bench is the area where moots are won or lost.” Be aware of courtroom etiquette. Some things will differ from province to province, so ask plenty of questions in advance. Stand when addressing the panel and when being spoken to. And never walk around the courtroom — if you do, you’ll be accused of watching far too much American television.


PRECEDENTS WILL GUIDE, BUT THEY DO NOT RULE
Typically, a moot court will be the ultimate court of the land. This means that although there is likely a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on your particular topic, you aren’t bound by the precedent. Present your opposing view. Creativity and imagination are often overlooked qualities in lawyers, but they are the same qualities that can make a top-notch litigator. The moot is your chance to show your ingenuity in exploring the law; use it wisely, and always have a firm base to support your argument.

LEARN FROM WATCHING OTHERS
But do your own thing. Just because you see a certain style of presentation being used doesn’t mean your own won’t be just as (or more) effective. Thomas, with FMC, makes reference to the Law & Order phenomenon. It might work for Jack McCoy, but that doesn’t mean you should try it. Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore your options. “Different styles can be equally persuasive or powerful and just because they’re different doesn’t make one style necessarily better than another,” encourages Thomas. Role models are helpful, but don’t try to copy them. Create your own archetype by using pieces from the multiple examples around you.

DON’T SKIP A MEAL
No need to roll your eyes; we won’t bore you with the studies that show how breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We will, however, bring your attention to the embarrassment that arises when you’re sitting in a quiet room with all of the focus on you, and your stomach begins to rumble. Enough said.


Above all, remember that a competitive moot should be an enjoyable learning experience. Even if you aren’t victorious via the judges’ decision, you can still hold your head high knowing that you’ve garnered the respect of those around you for giving it your best effort.


In an industry that is built upon reputation, the respect of your colleagues can be worth a great deal more than a winning judgment.

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