English Speaking Union–Essex Court Chambers Round 1

English Speaking Union–Essex Court Chambers Round 1

Mooting is an activity that my university and I take very seriously. The primary reason is because I relish competition. University life offers students many experiences, but one experience that is hard to find as a law student is competition – unless you join a sports club. It’s not quite the same though. For many of us, law school is an opportunity to learn skills that we hope to eventually use as lawyers. Assessments aside, it is rare that we get a chance to use those skills.

Mooting, however, provides an outlet for students to use the skills they are learning and to embrace competition. It’s the closest thing that law students have to a sport and there are aspects of mooting that remind me of my time when I used to play rugby as a youngster.

It was common for me that, before a game, I would build a picture in my mind of my opposition and how I expected them to play before I engaged them on the field, being polite and respectful to the referee and, no matter what was said or done on the field, treating my opponents with respect and acting gracefully in either victory or defeat.

Mooting, however, provides an outlet for students to use the skills they are learning and to embrace competition. It’s the closest thing that law students have to a sport and there are aspects of mooting that remind me of my time when I used to play rugby as a youngster.

Every year it seems mooting comes very suddenly. You return to law school in September and before you know it, it is November and various competitions have set deadlines for results to be communicated to them. November is when the hard work starts. Not only do you have to keep up with your own academic work but you have to fit in everything else, which includes mooting. This year in the first term we entered four competitions.

In the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting National Mooting Competition (ICLR) we were drawn at home against the University of Wolverhampton. We were drawn against the University of Birmingham in the Web Legal National Mooting Competition. In the Oxford University Press National Mooting Competition (OUP) we were drawn away against the University of Nottingham. We were drawn away against the University of Wolverhampton in the English Speaking Union-Essex Court Chambers National Mooting Competition (ESU).

I remember very clearly popping in for a chat with our Director of Mooting (DM) and he asked me if I wanted to represent the university in the ESU Competition and revealed that we had been drawn away against the University of Wolverhampton. This instantly drew my attention for a number of reasons.

In my time as a student, we had been drawn against Wolverhampton on at least two occasions before this academic year. In the first engagement we were forced to withdraw because one of our mooters could no longer compete for personal reasons and in the second, our team of students from the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) visited Wolverhampton and were successful.

It’s rare in my experience that universities get drawn against each other in more than one competition. This year we had been drawn against them twice. How unpredictable. This could unfold in a variety of ways: we could moot against them twice and lose, we could win one and lose one or we could win both moots.

DM spoke fondly of the rapport he and his counterpart at Wolverhampton had built up over the years. Instantly I felt very excited about the prospect: I wouldn’t be mooting in the first moot but I would definitely be mooting against them in the second encounter. This could be a matter of a clean sweep or it could be a matter of good natured, friendly competition and revenge. It turned out that it was the latter.

We were unsuccessful against them at home in the ICLR competition. It was very competitive but the judge gave the nod to Wolverhampton. This was the first result of the year and it hadn’t gone our way. It is not how you want to start the year. Not only that, but I could tell that the pressure was on from that point onwards.

To lose to any university is undesirable but to lose to one twice in the same year was unthinkable to us. It wasn’t made better by us not having mooted against the University of Nottingham. That eventual result would reduce some of the pressure, but not by much. There didn’t seem to be a day that went by without a comment being made about not losing twice, the pressure being on to win.

The night before

I arrived home at around 8pm the night before the moot, fell asleep around 9pm and woke around 12am to be uncharacteristically, violently ill. Great, I thought. The night before what is going to be the most important date of this year for me and I’m ill. I barely looked at my mooting notes or my bundle that night as I had intended to do to make sure I was ready. When I woke up that morning I didn’t look at them either. I put my suit on early to make sure that I would feel comfortable later on and not notice the difference in clothing and proceeded to take a leisurely walk to the campus.


We arrived at Wolverhampton at around 3pm. The moot was due to start no earlier than 5.30pm so we arrived in plenty of time to make sure we were settled and comfortable. I felt fine until it hit 5pm and then I started to get anxious. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach – not an ill feeling – but a feeling of being uncomfortable. This was normal. In an odd sort of way, it’s reassuring to know that those feelings are there, otherwise I would have been worried that I felt too comfortable.

Travelling upstairs to their courtroom and seeing the surroundings seemed to dispel the feelings of discomfort. A few comments which were relayed to me made any feelings, positive or negative, that I had turn toward into annoyance and irritation. Awaiting the judge’s arrival I had turned to one of the members of my institution’s mooting society who informed me that, while making their way to the courtroom, representatives of Wolverhampton had inquired as to our whereabouts (understandably) and then followed it up by saying ‘I hope they aren’t running scared after we beat them’.

I had also turned to a member of our academic staff that had, the year before, worked at Wolverhampton who told to me that they were looking forward to facing us after ‘thrashing them at home’. It could be an indication that I need a thicker skin, and on reflection I can see that the comments were likely good-natured banter and not intended disrespectfully, but you couldn’t have convinced me of that at the time; in my mind, I was preparing to put my intellect, my reputation and the reputation of my university on the line and these comments came across as intensely disrespectful, malicious or not. After admitting my feelings of annoyance to a supporting member of staff I set my mind to the moot.

No matter what happened, in my mind, I was going to make sure that I made an impression and that we won – whatever it took.

Time to moot

The judge arrived and soon after the moot began. Wolverhampton began as they appeared for the Appellants. I was surprised by my opposing counsel’s argument because he presented material, anticipating what he thought I was going to say. Instead of presenting my submission first and disarming it, which is a skill in itself, his presentation of my argument turned on a minor point I wasn’t addressing and for which I had authority to rebut.

I took a lot of confidence from that because I knew there would be an opportunity for me to respond and I could put forward my argument and contrast it with what he had said previously. Before my mooting partner began, the judge remarked that she must be itching to begin. If that was true, I felt inside like I was going to jump out of my skin.

The time came for me to stand up; I felt nervous. I put my bundle on the lectern in front of me and then began. Instead of introducing myself to the court, I followed some recent advice given by a moot judge and got on with my submissions. I began by addressing the Appellant’s argument and took considerable time to rebut thoroughly what he had said. I wanted to introduce the cases I was relying on as authority as quickly as I could so that when it came to my submissions I could talk about the cases, the principles and what my argument was, without having to trip myself up over introducing authorities.

Students from my university that had come along to support us reflected to me that they were concerned over the time I took. Twenty minutes was my maximum and I had spent five full minutes rebutting the Appellant’s argument before even touching my own. They also reflected that, despite their time concerns, that they felt the rebuttal had gone well. Once I finished with addressing the Appellant’s submissions I pointedly made it clear that I was moving onto my argument.

No matter what happened, in my mind, I was going to make sure that I made an impression and that we won – whatever it took.

I personally felt like it had been my strongest performance yet. I was confident, articulate, persuasive and unscripted. I felt like the hard work had paid off and there was a difference in performance between myself and my opposing number for the Appellants. Then we awaited the judge’s decision. Having participated in a handful of moots and watched double that number, it’s common that judges say that moots are close.

It is rare that one can get any indication over how the judge is going to decide before the result is given and this judge was no exception. Giving a long, deliberate and in character judgment he sided with us, the Respondents, on grounds one and two. Usually this is not a good sign.

It’s a truism of mooting that if you win the law, you are usually unlikely to win the moot. Delivering his judgment the judge said that the decision was close but that he was finding in favour of the Respondents. I was flooded with a lot of emotions – relief, joy, excitement and surprise were but a few. He outlined his reasons for why we had won. He commended each of the mooters for their advocacy, impressed by the standards of both teams but also said that there was one advocate whose performance separated the two teams.

In describing the advocate that he felt swung the decision, he referred to their impressive knowledge of the authorities, the persuasive nature of their argument which permeated both their submission and through to their partner’s submission and the ease at which they dealt with their authorities, citing a specific example, where a 197-page case was denoted as a ‘simple case’. Almost embarassed, I was deeply surprised to have been praised but it was comforting to know that the hard work had paid off and, not only had been noticed, but appreciated by the judge. The important fact which could not be changed was we had won and were through to the Second Round.

Liam is representing his academic institution, Birmingham City University, in the English Speaking Union – Essex Court Chambers National Mooting Competition.

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