Competitions sharpen young lawyers’ skills

Stirring courtroom advocacy is often seen as the stock-in-trade of good lawyers. It’s the glamorous public face of law that inspires bright, socially-conscious young people to enter the profession.

But today’s young lawyers have far fewer opportunities “on their feet” in court than their past counterparts – and advocacy skills need to be practiced to make perfect.

Fortunately, generous Law Foundation support is helping ensure that young New Zealand lawyers get the advocacy training they need, by replicating real-life experience through mooting and client consultation competitions.

The Foundation provides more than $80,000 funding each year to support young lawyers taking part in national and international competitions. Coaches and organisers stress the importance of these competitions to legal professional development.

For several years, Caroline Foster of Auckland Law School has coached teams representing New Zealand at the prestigious Jessup Moot in Washington DC.

“The individual student gain is huge. They all change – it’s very intensive, two or even three moots a day. They gain in skills and confidence, through working under pressure and working as a team with different people,” she says.

“They get the confidence, presence and analytical capacity to foot it with people who are vastly more experienced in their careers.”

More than 550 law schools from 80 countries take part in the Jessup, making it the largest moot in the world. Around 120 teams go through to the international rounds in Washington DC.

The moot deals with contemporary international law issues –competitors in the 2015 competition worked on a scenario that drew on the Ukraine/Crimea independence referendum.

“The Law Foundation’s involvement is vital – its support means we can get the team there, and the faculty does everything it can in kind. It’s hugely appreciated by all law faculties around the country – it’s a really valuable thing that the Foundation is doing for young New Zealand lawyers,” Caroline says.

Her comments are echoed by Selene Mize of Otago Law School, long-time coach of New Zealand teams in the Brown-Mosten International Client Consultation Competition.

“I think it’s really important. Unlike some places overseas, to the best of my knowledge no-one is teaching client interviewing in New Zealand, but it’s not a natural skill.

“Medical schools require students to learn interviewing, they are assessed on it in order to graduate. I think it will become an important part of the curriculum for law schools as well, listening properly to the client so you can give appropriate advice,” Selene says.

“Studies show there is a lot of resentment at lawyers, and some of this comes from the initial stages of the lawyer/client relationship, where the lawyer tries to push the client into a one size fits all type thing.”

Selene explains how Law Foundation support has made it much easier for students to take part.

“I was involved with these before the Law Foundation came on board. I remember taking people overseas where people were in sleeping bags in one room on the floor.

“We were never very good at getting even modest costs covered, and we spent an enormous amount of time fundraising. It was really challenging – for New Zealand, just about everywhere we go is expensive.”

The Foundation is also backing the expansion of a regional advocacy event into a national competition for young lawyers.

The New Zealand Law Foundation National Mooting competition started life as a Wellington-only event in 2013 organised by the Wellington Young Lawyers Committee. With encouragement and funding support from the Foundation it has now expanded nationally. The following year both Auckland and Wellington ran competitions, and in 2015 Canterbury-Westland will also hold an event, followed by a first-ever national final in Wellington. The New Zealand Law Society and the New Zealand Bar Association are strongly supporting these competitions.

National Mooting Coordinator Matt Dodd says the aim is to expand the competition to other regions in 2016 – and he also stresses the importance of the moot to developing practical advocacy skills.

“In earlier times there were more opportunities for young lawyers to do court work. There are now plenty of opportunities for young lawyers to do great quality written work, but not for presenting oral arguments.

“We are concerned about the risk of a decline in advocacy standards, and senior lawyers and members of the judiciary are worried as well,” he says.

Participants benefit through mentoring by experienced advocates: “It gives competitors the chance to talk to people who are doing this every day in court. It’s a real educational opportunity,” Matt says.

NZ Law Foundation support for mooting contests

  • Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Competition, Washington DC – $30,000 annually to cover travel for a four-person team and two coaches.
  • Brown-Mosten International Client Consultation Competition – $15,000 annually to cover travel for a two-person team and a coach.
  • International Negotiation Competition – $15,000 annually to cover travel for a two-person team and a coach. The competition involves teams negotiating either an international transaction or the resolution of an international dispute. Teams from universities around the world take part, and the competition is held in different locations each year (Dublin in 2015).
  • New Zealand Law Foundation National Family Law Moot – $12,000 annually to cover team travel costs from each Law School. Held annually at Otago University, students compete for the Mahony Cup.
  • New Zealand Law Foundation National Mooting Competition – $10,550 in 2015 to cover administrative and travel costs for regional and national finals.

The Law Foundation contributes over $80,000 annually to support development of student and young lawyer advocacy skills.

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