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UNB Fredericton

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First-year moot gives 1L’s an introduction to the courtroom

The first-year mooting program is a key component of UNB Law’s foundational Legal Research and Advocacy course. For many students, this is their first taste of the courtroom, acting as appellate lawyers in a simulated hearing before members of the New Brunswick legal community. The moot provides first-year students with an opportunity to develop and integrate key legal skills, knowledge, and methods in a relatively contained environment early in their careers.

Professor Basil Alexander teaches the legal research portion of the year-long course, with practitioner Maya Hamou joining him as co-instructor for the legal advocacy section.

“The program is usually the first-time students act as a lawyer advocating a client’s perspective,” said Basil. “This is an important experience since persuasion is a key part of most legal careers, even if one is not doing litigation.”

“The experience is designed to be as close as possible to real-world appellate advocacy—including the nervous butterflies,” added Maya. “Although it may feel overwhelming during the process, students gain skills and confidence that carry them through the following years of law school. For some, the moot ignites a new passion—a new unimagined career path.”

Basil joined UNB Law in the summer of 2019. This was his first time teaching the course, an experience he found both challenging and rewarding.

“The moot involves students doing both written and oral legal advocacy in a condensed period—it can be intense at times for everyone involved. However, it is very fulfilling to see the considerable growth as students get through the experience, realize they can do such work, and see its potential future applicability and usefulness for themselves.”

“I absolutely adore teaching this class,” said Hamou. “It is immensely rewarding as an instructor to see students blossom and gain confidence as they acquire new skills. The skills touched upon in this course are directly applicable to the practice of law, in particular appellate advocacy.”

What makes a good mooter?

“Anybody can be a good mooter and advocate,” explained Alexander. “It just takes preparation, a willingness to learn and put in the work, and practice. It is something that continually develops over a career as one keeps gaining experience. We each have different backgrounds, personalities, perspectives, and styles, and the key is figuring out what works best for you, taking into account the context and audience you’re trying to persuade.” 

St. John criminal lawyer, John Brooks (LLB ’78), served as a part-time instructor for the first-year moot for 24 years (1995-2019). John worked with hundreds of 1Ls, drawing on his 40 years of experience in the courtroom to provide guidance and feedback on their written factums and oral presentation. For Brooks, a good mooter and advocate is prepared, authentic and open.

“Mooting is not about telling the judges what you think they need to know, but basing your arguments on your analysis and facts. Those that are successful are prepared and flexible—they can see both sides of the argument, and not just be enamoured with their position. Those that understand the issue from both sides can better respond to the questions/concerns of the court.”

According to John, being an advocate and a good mooter is much less about debating or lecturing and more about having a conversation with the court.

“You have a court who is your audience, who is going to give you feedback. It is a formal conversation—you have to respect the court while making credible arguments. It is more about having a respectful conversation than it is about being dramatic or charming.”

Key take-aways for students

“The first-year moot teaches students how appellate advocacy works practically,” said Alexander. “This can provide insight when examining such cases in other courses and contexts. You may also learn unexpected things about yourself and others that you otherwise wouldn’t have known.”

Basil sees the first-year moot as an important stepping stone for students and urges them not to get too hung up on any negatives from their performance.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that how one does in the moot is not a reflection of how you will be as a lawyer, or even an upper-year mooter. The key is what did you learn (e.g. strengths, weaknesses, tendencies/preferences, what would do same/differently, and about yourself generally), and then using that as basis to further build and develop, including by seeking out interesting growth opportunities.”

Brooks reminds students to embrace the challenge, and enjoy the process of mooting/advocacy, but also to learn from it each time.

“For many, they are going to be doing this for their whole career—you have to embrace it! You cannot be prepared for everything and keep in mind that sometimes there is no perfect answer, and that is okay. After you are finished don’t beat yourself up. Ask yourself, ‘how can I do better next time?’ Strangely enough, my most significant advocacy learning experiences have been when severely challenged by the court and even sometimes ‘taken apart.’ While uncomfortable in the moment, it was a valuable teaching experience that motivated me to take nothing for granted and to improve the next time and the next.”

The legal research component of the course is one of the keys to success in the advocacy component of the course. Maya’s advice to any incoming students is simple: listen from day one.

“The lessons learned in the legal research component of the course will provide students with knowledge and skills to carry them through their academic and professional careers. Believe me, the McGill Guide is your friend!”

Reflections from a participant

“Participating in the first-year moot has been my favourite experience at law school,” said Raylene Mackey. “Although it was one of the most challenging processes I’ve gone through, it was incredibly rewarding. This mooting course is so different than any of the other 1L courses. It allows law students to learn about litigation early on.”

While Raylene participated in mooting during her undergrad, she found the UNB Law first-year moot unlike any she had done before.

“The moot was unique for me since it required all students to start the process from scratch. We relied heavily on the provided problem facts, the grounds for appeal, and advice from Professors Alexander and Hamou.”

Her favorite component of the course was the opportunity to deliver oral arguments in front of the panel of judges, which included the Minister of Justice/Attorney General.

“It was at this phase where everything came together—it felt like ‘showtime.’ The moot hearings allowed me to demonstrate just how much work I had put into the entire process. When tested by the panel of judges throughout my oral arguments, I felt comfortable and confident in my responses to their questions. I learned from their feedback and will be better at mooting in the future as a result.”

For Mackey, the moot was also a lesson in concision. She found the time limit on the oral submissions a challenge, but also an important learning experience.

“I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to. Working within the given time allotment will be an important skill to develop moving forward. It is best to say what is most important in a concise way that is easily understood.”

Her advice for incoming 1Ls is to put in as much effort as they can from the outset.

“Put 110% effort into the process. The more work you put into the stages leading up to oral submissions, the more likely you will feel comfortable, prepared, and ready to conquer the court! Have fun, enjoy the ride, and definitely go to Basil and Maya with any questions or concerns because they are incredibly helpful along the way!”

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