Well, that’s it. I’m through to the final – eek! You may be wondering what the big deal is, but perhaps you can sympathise with my anxiety once I tell you that not only has this been my very first mooting competition… the final is going to be held at [drum roll…]
The Supreme Court!
And the judge will be [wait for it…]
Lady Hale! (Or, more properly, the Rt Hon Baroness Hale of Richmond.)
So, now do you understand why I’m already feeling a touch nervous?
Having been through the first two rounds with the same judge, I felt I would be at somewhat of an advantage for the third round semi-final, as I was told it would be before him again. Lo and behold… I turned up and it wasn’t him.
I should have been relieved as I had – to be frank – found this judge and his judging persona to be a tad on the abrasive side. Actually, after the first round moot, I sat down at the end of my submissions (having been unceremoniously cut off at the 10-minute mark), face burning, swearing that I would never put myself through that again. I felt humiliated. And this was a competition that was supposed to foster absolute beginners. I thought he would be gentle with us. Nope.
This whole judge business gave me a unique insight into just how differently the winner of a moot might be decided.
When we met again in the second round, I had been relieved to be told I’d have a different judge, but then I turned up, and it was the same one! My nerves reappeared immediately. Evidently I still won, and at least I knew what to expect that time around.
So this time, for the third round, I felt fully prepared for his style of intervention and his manner. I had carefully observed his feedback to my fellow competitors on the type of stance, delivery, skeleton argument, bundles, level of deference and formality he preferred – all of which I had taken on board. But alas, different judge! This whole judge business gave me a unique insight into just how differently the winner of a moot might be decided. I suspect the outcome of the semi-final would have been partly different if we’d had the judge I was expecting.
The semi-final comprised two rounds, i.e. eight mooters. I had assumed that everyone would be present to watch both rounds, but when I arrived for the first, there was no one else from my group; in fact, no audience at all. The Judge allowed me to watch, though I had to give him my skeleton argument first so I didn’t have any advantage over my competitors.
Watching other people moot is incredibly instructive. The variety of styles and approaches made me realise that, while I did get through to the final, I don’t necessarily have a winning strategy, and that there are more awe-inspiring skills than fluid, drama-school delivery. It was impressive to see first-year law students responding to questions with ease, showing depth of understanding of the law, and the especially impressive skill of doing it all without a script – something I’m yet to master.
The rather verbose (and unnecessary) defence of the ‘rule-breaker’ was the excuse of ‘I’m a first year, I’ve never mooted before and we’ve not covered economic duress yet!’
Also interesting to watch was a bit of ‘pre-match argy-bargy’ from the first group. The rules of our competition include submitting your one-page skeleton 48 hours before the moot itself. One of them had failed to do this until the night before, and his opponent brought it up with the Judge, also suggesting that the format and content of the skeleton had clearly and visibly benefitted from having seen his own. The rather verbose (and unnecessary) defence of the ‘rule-breaker’ was the excuse of ‘I’m a first year, I’ve never mooted before and we’ve not covered economic duress yet!’ As I already mentioned, this was the first time for almost everybody, so it was hardly an excuse! That said, the Judge calmed the situation by emphasising the greater importance of the moot performance itself.
I quietly decided in my head that I would not raise the five-hour delay I’d had from one of my own group. It would just seem petty, I suppose. This little incident also served as a worthwhile reminder that you may well be judged from the moment you enter the ‘courtroom’, and any petulant, negative or inappropriate behaviour is likely to be noted.
I felt much better prepared for the semi-final, and the feedback I received was fairly limited and mostly positive. The key thing that the Judge picked up on, which had been bothering me, was my scripting. He said I was walking on the right side of a very fine line, and that while I was clearly using a script, I had maintained strong eye contact, my delivery did not sound as though I was reading at all, and his interventions did not cause any problems with staying on track. But he did warn the rest of the competitors not to be wooed by the fluidity of my speech and that using a script is a double-edged sword.
I don’t think that it is harming me and it was absolutely clear to me that other people had been scripting too, with less success. Unfortunately, because we don’t have any sort of lectern, in order to maintain eye-contact, I need to hold my notes up in front of my body (not my face!). I suspect that because I did this is in a more visible way, I was vulnerable to this criticism where no one else was.
This was the fourth time I have stood up and spoken in a moot or advocacy competition, using the same technique, and it is the first time it had been raised. I’m going to (for now) stick to my strengths and keep using a persuasive, well-researched, well-crafted and well-rehearsed script. I have met a few barristers who say they always write a script – I believe that it’s all in the delivery, and if you can pull it off smoothly, then why not?
Let’s see what Lady Hale says, eh?
Update: The final piece in the series has now been published. Read it here.