For the majority of University of Glasgow Law students, their first encounter with the world of mooting is through taking part in the Obligations 1B moot assessment in the first year of their degree. Whether the outcome is one of triumph or of defeat, the lessons learned by students are ones which they will carry with them long after they have left the Alexander Stone Courtroom and entered into the world of work.
It is a common misconception that only those who wish to be litigators or advocates will benefit from being involved in mooting. While mooting does provide the chance to practice essential courtroom etiquette, it more importantly offers the opportunity to develop and hone practical skills that are required, not only in surviving a demanding traineeship, but in progressing on to become a qualified lawyer.
Reflecting upon my own experiences, I have come to appreciate the skills and proficiencies that you can acquire from partaking in mooting that will help you advance through your legal career. Here are three key areas of expertise which are important to focus on:
The Art of Presentation
It is much easier to make a good first impression than to correct a bad one.
There is an expectation by the public of how lawyers should dress, act and present themselves. The image they have of the profession is mostly fuelled by television and film representations of lawyers (think Suits, Silk, To Kill a Mockingbird, Erin Brockovich, to name a few). So, while most of us don’t have huge offices with panoramic views over a jaw dropping cityscape, drink vintage whisky during working hours, or strut around the office in expensive designer suits, we are expected to play a “role”.
Like any good actor, we need to know what our character should look like and how they should behave in order to portray that persona to the best of our abilities. Therefore, you should dress for the occasion and always be well groomed. Remember, your attire is your costume; once you put on your suit, you embody the lawyer persona.
Now that you look like a lawyer, you next have to learn to behave like a lawyer. This all comes down to one word: confidence. Some people are born confident and others have to work hard to achieve it; but no matter how you come to possess it, all lawyers need to exude it.
The reason confidence is so crucial for a successful career as a lawyer is because fundamentally, if you do not believe in your own capabilities, how can you expect anyone else to? If you do not have faith in your own skills, ask yourself why. Is there any way you can rectify the situation? For the most part, the answer to this question will be yes you can, with practice and preparation.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
The character of the “lawyer” is perceived as a highly intelligent, well educated, talented and skilled individual that is expected to work hard, push boundaries and deliver exactly what clients want, whilst remaining unflappable in the face of adversity.
Unless you have an IQ in the region of 140 or an eidetic memory, the standards expected of lawyers appear to be impossibly high and unattainable. In reality, this is not the case. Any person at the beginning of their legal career can become the lawyer described above. All that is needed is preparation.
The key to good preparatory work is to acknowledge your weaknesses and then think about how you can address those vulnerabilities and learn from them.
If you lack knowledge on a subject, then the easiest way to resolve this is to research the area you are unfamiliar with and study it. There may even be a friend or colleague who has expertise in this area that you can utilise, all you need to do is ask. Researching and asking questions are things that you will continue to do, no matter what stage of your career you are in. There is always the opportunity to learn and extent your knowledge.
If you are lacking a practical skill such as drafting a specific document or public speaking, then seek out those who already have an aptitude for it and ask for their advice. Alternatively, practice as much as possible, and then request feedback on how you can improve.
The more you prepare now, the less that can surprise you in the future.
Keeping Your Head Under Pressure
We have all experienced moments of the gut-wrenching, cold sweat-inducing panic that sets in when you are asked a direct question that we have no idea what the correct answer is to. It could have been in an exam, in a moot, in a client meeting or at your desk with your boss standing over you. It is a feeling that we avoid at all costs.
So how do you avoid horrid moments like this? In truth, we cannot always avoid those moments, but we can control them.
The best piece of advice I was ever given in relation to keeping my head whilst under pressure was from my Criminal Law Tutor during my Diploma year. Addressing the tutorial group as we sat and discussed our upcoming assessment at the Sheriff Court in Glasgow, he told us:
“Just remember to be a swan. Forget how hard you may be struggling and kicking to stay afloat, just focus on what people can see above the water. Make it look effortless.”
It sounds easier said than accomplished, but with practice it is probably the most valuable skill I have developed in my legal career. My tutor’s advice also aligns itself with the concepts discussed above. If you are able to project an exterior of calm and remain confident, whilst rapidly running through all the preparation you have undertaken, in order to give a competent and coherent answer, then you have certainly proved you can handle the pressures of being a lawyer. Even when there are times when you are not as prepared as you would like to be, maintaining a calm facade, allows you an opportunity to think on your feet and deliver an assertive answer, without appearing flustered, unknowledgeable and out of your depth.
Overall, I have found that by partaking and competing in moots I have expanded my skillset and learned a lot of useful lessons that I have been able to utilise as I have continued through my legal career from law student to trainee solicitor. I would highly recommend students get involved with the mooting society and gain as much experience as they can before they have to handle real cases with real clients! Even those who do not want to be court lawyers, the skills that you gain from mooting are applicable across all aspects of your traineeship, and future career, and so would encourage everyone to give it a go at least once.