Over the next couple of weeks, many of you will be taking part in your first moot. You may be experiencing some powerful emotions, ranging from excitement to dread.
Whatever you’re feeling, it’s important that you don’t treat your first moot as a test of your potential. Many of the Law School’s best mooters had awkward first moots. They misunderstood the Australian legal method, weren’t comfortable with the mooting format, or were simply overcome by nerves. All of these things may happen to you and you may still become a top mooter. Your first moot is the start of an education in advocacy, not a final assessment.
With this in mind, my tips don’t aim to get you the best score. They are likely to improve your score, but that is not their purpose. Their purpose is to help make your first moot a fun and rewarding experience.
Accept that you will feel nervous
It’s normal to feel nervous about public speaking and mooting can seem like public speaking on steroids. You won’t have enough time to gain mastery of your topic before you are thrust into the moot court. The judges aren’t going to listen quietly; they’re going to challenge your argument.
If this makes you feel nervous, then you’re in good company. Many of the Law School’s best mooters feel nervous when mooting. A good mooter is not necessarily or even typically a highly confident person. Mooting is less about being a confident person and more about making peace with your nerves.
In practice, this means accepting that you will feel nervous when mooting and very nervous in your first moot. Once you have accepted this, you can stop feeling ashamed if you are not as confident as you might like to be. The confidence that you want will come with practice. For now, you should proud of yourself for facing up to and overcoming the very serious challenge of mooting.
Expect to make lots of mistakes
There’s a lot to take in before your first moot. You have to teach yourself an unfamiliar area of law, apply it to a difficult fact scenario, write your first set of submissions, and defend those submissions in some kind of weird cross between a speech and an oral exam. You can’t possibly get it all right and that’s okay. Your judges didn’t get it all right back in their first moot either.
The point of your first moot isn’t to be perfect. It’s to make lots of mistakes and to learn from them. Gaps in your knowledge can teach you which parts of the legal method you haven’t intuitively grasped. Problems with manner – such as speaking too quickly – can almost always be overcome. If your only weakness is court etiquette, then congratulations – you’re already doing excellently!
Ask questions of the judges after the moot
The judges are often experienced mooters who are keen to help you improve. They won’t mind you asking questions. On the contrary, they’ll probably be excited to talk about one of their favourite topics!
In their enthusiasm to share their knowledge, judges can sometimes go overboard. They can give you so much feedback that you can feel that you don’t know where to begin. If this happens, it is helpful to ask the judges, ‘What is the most important thing for me to work on?’
Don’t let a bad moot put you off mooting
Moots go bad for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with your competence. Perhaps you had a busy week that prevented you from preparing as thoroughly as you would have liked. Perhaps you got difficult judges. It happens.
The important thing is not to let an experience like this put you off mooting. Your feelings are important, but they are rarely an accurate guide to how well you performed in a moot. The most likely scenario is that you performed much better than you think. In any event, your second moot will almost certainly go better than your first.
You’ll get the most out of mooting if you stay with it for more than a couple of rounds. To do this, you will need to focus on the parts of mooting that you find enjoyable. You might enjoy the skills development, the experience of the law in action or the opportunity to make new friends. The more you enjoy mooting, the longer you’ll stick with it and the better you’ll become. The pay-offs from mooting are often small at first, but massive in the long-run.
Good luck with your first moot!
If you are a first-time mooter at UNSW, I would value your feedback on this blog post. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.