Mooting in University v Litigation in the Firm
It has been a while since I graduated from the university. I will never forget neither the exam stress, nor every joyful moment shared with my fellow classmates throughout the academic years. The thrill, the excitement, will always be remembered. I still remember vividly that we had been “forced” to participate in the mooting competition despite finals being scheduled 2 weeks right after the competition. It was one of many unforgettable experiences throughout my university years. I was expected to learn about the practical procedures, Unfortunately for me, my expectations were too high, it gave me a quick, but brief glance as to what real litigation would look like.
I found out that mooting and litigation are two totally different things, after a short attachment program under the guidance of Mr Alex Chang.
First of all, what is mooting?
Mooting is a competitive mock trial hearing. It takes the form of a debate about the legal merits of an appeal in a fictitious civil or criminal case. In the moot court, moots are not concerned with the niceties of the procedures and are just mock trials. Consequently there are no witnesses and no juries in mooting. It shows the best and most glamorous part in litigation.
What is Litigation
From what I have observed during the mini-pupillage program in the office of Mr Alex Chang, a litigation process inevitably involves all the heavy, tireless pre-trial preparation work in order prepare for the day in court.
As a contrast, rather than fictional facts, real world litigation struggles to prove material facts that are in favour of the clients. It involves examination of witnesses, presentation of evidence, countless researching hours, and usually takes months (or years in the past) to get a judgment. In a moot court, the facts given are not in dispute, and procedures are not an issue. It is a fancy, yet over-simplified form of litigation. I witnessed counsels striving hard to prove material facts hoping that judgment will be in their favour.
Moot vs Litigation
Generally, mooting will involve two teams of two law students, one of whom acts as “leading” or “senior” counsel, and the other take on the mantle as “Junior” counsel. The team members decide between themselves and usually the more experienced mooter will be the senior. It was a competition, the worst case scenario neither penalty nor damages will be granted.
Back to the earth, the human resources involved in litigation are far beyond mooting competitions. In a litigation firm, it requires a support system “behind the scene”. lf counsel lose their case, their clients shall face the consequences (be it monetary compensation or penal consequence).
Mooting will start with a moot problem. The hypothetical facts given are usually straightforward, without having to prove your case with the tendering of evidence. In litigation, the facts were rather complex. To convince a judge, counsel will have to collate and present evidence to prove the existence of facts. Linking the evidence to the law is usually the biggest challenge.
In moot courts, the skills to expunge evidential weight of the opponent’s evidence presented is not tested. I realised during this short attachment program, advocacy skills were not taught during my 4 academic years. The advocacy skill of Mr Alex Chang was an eye-opener, especially when he cross-examined the witnesses to have them disagree with their own case, and to use the opponent’s witness statement in favour of his argument. I was taught to be meticulous about every single detail. It is an essential value to distinguish a good lawyer from a normal one.
The only similarity between mooting and litigation is hard work, if taken remotely and seriously, isit involves many hours of leafing through case reports and textbooks, forcing the counsels to think meticulously about the legal issues raised, the stress levels in the firm make major examinations look like picnic. From what I have observed in the office of Mr. Alex Chang, all of the firm’s litigation members worked until late night on occasions. Moot court preparation is a walk in the parklane.
For the very unlucky few, mooting/ litigation can result in public humiliation. I would like to quote a story of a well known writer/ broadcaster Ned Sherrin. Interviewed by The Times 12 years ago, he described the most embarrassing moment of his life as follows:
“I was one of four young barristers who had to argue a mock trial in Gray’s Inn. I had divided my brief with my partner, but when he got up to speak he was doing the part that I had prepared. When it came to me the judge gave me a rough time. Suddenly, I heard bell ringing and saw a bright purple light-and I fainted” Age of Enlightenment: Ned Sherrin, The Times, 22 July 2003.
Perhaps it was after this experience, Mr Sherrin decided against a career at the Bar. Thus, why put yourself through the hard work, the stress and the possibility of keeling over in public?
I do agree mooting/ litigation can put a person into stress in which normal person cannot endure. The compensation however, is, when the matters go in your favour, be it in moot court/ litigation, the thrill excitement and fulfilment is priceless. From my point of view, a moot/ litigation sometimes is synonymous with an adventure, including discovery, excitement, pressure, with one ultimate goal to achieve. To be frank, all jobs have stress.
I found out, litigation lawyers are specialised in their respective fields and not all-rounders.
Lastly, I quote a statement from one of my lecturers…
“… mooting is the fastest way to learn the law…”
The same goes for litigation, I believe, it is the best mechanism to train a fresh law graduate.
Ain’t it something beautiful to have a taste of victory after the hassles, stress and hard work?
LEONG CHAN HUI