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The Impact of the Moot Court on Advocacy in Nigeria – Israel Osarenoriabe

Mooting in Nigeria

The Impact of the Moot Court on Advocacy in Nigeria

INTRODUCTION

The term Moot etymologically derives from the practice of gathering of the people of a village or district, in Anglo-Saxon times, for the discussion and settlement of matters of common interest, known as the gemot. The use of mooting today is quite different from this.

Mooting is not same thing as public speaking or debating, which applies to students generally, although it shares some elements in common with them.

Mooting as it concerns law students involves a specialised application of the art of legal analysis and persuasive advocacy. The genesis of Mooting among fledgling lawyers is traced to the inn of courts of medieval times, when young male apprentices took instruction from their seniors, and performed in mooting for years before they could be admitted as practitioners, in the absence of any regular course of study.

The practice of mooting among burgeoning lawyers has been part of the process of training lawyers for centuries and still plays an important role in legal education at Oxford.

The first recorded mention of moots in English legal history was in 1428, but it certainly predated that year. The records of the 15th and 16th centuries tell of the organisation of legal education in the societies of the Inns of Court in London, in which barristers practised the craft of law and students learned the skills necessary for practice, by watching and imitating them. 

By the end of the 15 century, there were nine Inns of Court. The records of Lincoln’s Inn state that a member was expelled from the Inn in that year for a default in mooting.  Also, by the 17th century, it is recorded that fines were imposed on barristers who did not take part presiding in moots.

Nigeria as a former colonial territory of the British, inherits this common law legal education system which utilizes mooting. From the heydays of the development of the Nigerian legal education system until now, mooting have been  key co-curricular training tool for lawyers in Nigeria across law faculties and at the Nigerian law school.

Meaning of Mooting

Mooting is an oral argumentation proceeding similar to that of a court proceeding, practiced in colleges and schools where lawyers are trained, to test their depths in the law, and see how efficient the law student is in presenting a legal argument.

It entails a simulated court proceeding in a Moot court, which usually involves law students analysing, brainstorming and researching on the given legal issues in a hypothetical case, usually as teams.

In mooting, law students are required to draft briefs or memorials according to the guidelines or modalities, and participate in oral argument presentations. The law students assume the roles of counsels and advocates. They argue against each other as plaintiffs and defendants on the basis of established facts and substantive or procedural questions of law, to prove their points before a judge or a bench of judges, which scores them based on their performance.

The judges upon listening to the arguments, give their judgment and declare the winners. Mooting may take place in a real court room, a class situation, or more commonly in a students moot court. Moot problems or questions are typically set in unsettled areas of law because a moot question is essentially one which has not been decided.

The moot court procedure imitates the procedure followed in real appeal courtrooms. The judge or judges enters, the mooters and the judge bow to each other, the judges introduce the issues and themselves, the clerk announces the matter, the mooters enter appearances and are then called on in turn to present their submissions. The Judges throw questions to the mooters, the court adjourns after presentations have been completed, and the Judges then return to deliver a brief judgment and some feedback.

However, it must be stressed that moot court does not involve receiving testimony by witnesses or the adducing of evidences, but is focused solely on the analytical application of the Law to a common set of hypothetical evidentiary assumptions, on which the law students have been allowed to research and prepare. Le Brun and Johnstone distinguished moot from mook by stating that the latter seeks to recreate the whole court experience for the law student.

To include witnesses, exhibits, filing of the relevant court processes used before and during trial, and even juries. This distinction between mocking and mooting is essentially the distinction between a trial court experience and an appeal court experience. Much of what is done in appeal courts is mooting on the facts and evidence already established in trial. Moot court Competitions may be International, National, Regional, Inter-school, Intra-faculty or even Intra-class.

Overview of the Importance of Mooting; Theories of Learning

Mooting is not only important for law student’s who aspire to become advocates, but even arbitrators, judges, academicians etc. The proceedings in moot courts mirror actual court proceedings.

The objective of the activity is basically to help law students engage practical application of the law and understand how real courts, as well as their proper code of conduct or court mannerisms. I personally never understood the history and significance of the traditional white and black worn by members of the legal professional until I participated in my first moot competition as a fresher.

The moot Court is therefore the closet experience of a real courtroom situation at the behest of a law student in the legal education process. This is why many employers today look favorably on experience garnered from participation in moot court.

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In most laws schools today, mooting have become incorporated into the curriculums, and students are graded upon their participation in moot and mock courts activities. Many Law faculties also hold inter-faculty or intra-faculty mooting sessions, which gives students a chance to sharpen their legal skills.

Participation of students in mooting supplements the theoretical classroom experience in various ways to enhance the learning process. As it is already widely acknowledged, the theoretical classroom experience is not sufficient to develop the law student to the required level of dexterity and proficiency required in practice. The various theories of learning which are universally utilised by academicians and pedagogues in teaching, exposes the inadequacies of using only the traditional Cognitive theoretical learning method for students.

There are five major Theories of Learning recognized. They include the Behaviorism theory of Learning, the Cognitive theory of learning, the Constructivism theory of learning, the Humanism Theory of learning, and the Connectivism Theory of learning.

The Constructivism theory for instance, presupposes that the student only makes meaning of whatever knowledge they are exposed to, through active engagement with the world, such as experiments or real world application to problem solving, which the art of mooting provides.

Also the connectivism theory of learning focuses on the development of skills necessary for detecting gaps and loopholes in knowledge, and sourcing relevant information to update them. This is where the development of research skills, which is majorly contingent upon mooting competitions, becomes necessary in the learning process. We will now attempt to envisage how Mooting has affected Advocacy in Nigeria over the years.

Impact of Mooting on Advocacy skills in Nigeria

The Nigerian Judiciary consists of both the members of the bench and the bar who are both churned from our legal education system, and also co-worshippers in the court chambers.

From inception until date, the Nigerian legal education system which is an offspring of the British legal education system, have adopted and utilized the teaching and learning methods of the common law legal tradition, of which mooting is an integral aspect. Through the years since independence, the Nigerian legal education system has churned out very renowned lawyers and judges through this system, who have excelled within and far beyond this hemisphere.

All the greatest lawyers, judges and justices ever known to have been locally churned, were produced from this system and began their development by active involvement in moot courts as law students. The likes of Gani Fawehinmi SAN, who was one of the frontline Human Rights lawyers that challenged the gross human rights violation and derogation of citizens, which characterised the military regimes. He was unlawfully arrested and detained on many occasions by the military governments, and it was one of these events which gave rise to the landmark case of Gani Fawehinmi V. General Sani Abacha & Ors.

Time would fail us to talk of the advocacy heroics of so many others, who through the facility of mooting as law students, began developing professional skills and acquired depths in substantive law, which distinguished them in practice and academics. Senior advocates of Nigeria in the ranks of Aare Afe Babalola SAN, Femi Falana SAN, Wole Olanikepkun SAN, Abimbola Akeredolu SAN, Adewunmi Ogunsanya SAN, Funke Adekoya SAN, and even our very own highly esteemed senior lecturer at present, Prof. Lawrence Atsegbua SAN.

For the Nigerian law student, mooting holds the key to an enviable professional career as an advocate especially. Participation in moot courts competitions and activities is considered necessary for law students for quite inexhaustible reasons.

We shall now discuss some reasons why participating in moot court activities is important for Nigerian law students.

Why Participating in Moot Court Activities is Important

A. Develops confidence, oratory and advocacy skills

The moot court which requires law students to address bench of judges on moot questions and equally on spontaneous questions thrown at the students, avails law students the avenue to develop their confidence, presentation, persuasion and oratory skills. The usage of rhetorics is very crucial in persuasion.

Rhetoric is the art of speaking with propriety, eloquence and compellingly. In mooting, Nigerian law students master the usage and knowledge of rhetorics. Persuasion skills is very crucial for lawyers because there are certain situations where there arises an inadequacy of primary legal authorities on a particular point of law which the lawyer seeks to rely on.

Mooting avails the law student the opportunity of learning the art of persuasion even when there are not enough primary legal authorities to support their argument.

Mooting helps the law student to build his confidence in communicating and marshalling his points before the moot court judges and audience. Mooting inculcates confidence, composure, attentiveness, and alertness. It helps the law student to build his doggedness and overcome phobias.

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B. Develops Memory and retention capacity

From time immemorial when law apprentices mooted in the inns of the court of Chancery under the tutelage of their superiors until today, it has been the practice that students must present their arguments off heart.

Except on periodic intervals where it is expedient to seek the leave of the court to read or quote an authority that is relevant to buttressing their point. Even in many renowned common law founded legal educational systems like in Queensland Australia and even in India, this practice still holds.

Law students are required to perform mooting by heart with complete focus on the bench of judges. Because of this, law students are tasked to memorize much of their arguments and rehearse them repeatedly, before having to present them in the moot court. Participating in moot courts therefore enables Nigerian law studnents to develop their memory and retention capacity as lawyers in training, since the are not allowed to read in addressing the moot court.

C. Enhances research, legal writing and drafting skills

The preparation of memorials which precedes the presentation, usually requires  extensive legal research and composition work. When preparing for moot court presentations, Nigerian law students are bound to undertake certain tasks like going through the plethora of cases, articles, journals, statutory laws, etc. Citing authorities, quoting legal maxims as well as maxims of legal scholars and judges, and also making references. 

Participating in the moot court competitions helps law students in enhancing their researching skills because the victory of a team is really dependent on how better the team can research in developing a memorial.  Law students in mooting are usually required to research wide so as to be able to raise pursue rebuttals against their opponents and answer questions from the Judges.

They learn how to navigate their way through the law library and through digital sources. The knowledge and skills to research which law students gleam from participation in moot courts is very relatable to the Connectivism theory of learning which presupposes that the capacity of remediating gaps in knowledge must be developed for effective learning. This is the very essence of legal research.

D. Enhances creative thinking and Legal analysis skills for Application of the Law

Application of the law is very crucial for law students in legal writing and law examinations. It is never enough to simply quote authorities as law students whether in examinations or in moot courts. Law students are required to analytically apply the law to the hypothetical facts provided them with utmost dexterity.

The skills relevant for legal analysis, crafting of legal issues and application of the law are learned by law students in the mooting process.

Nigerian law students through mooting, learn how to distinguish between the material and immaterial facts in a given statement of facts or hypothesis, which is important for proper analysis and application of the law.

Distinguishing of cases is also an important part of legal analysis used by the bar and the bench. When presenting their arguments in the moot courts, law students often find themselves required to distinguish between cases to establish their point or make rebuttals.

The moot court experience provides law students the opportunity to develop their creativity in thinking. Analytic and logical thinking is what essentially distinguishes the lawyer from the layman’s reasoning.

E. Learn legal ethics and court mannerisms

Legal ethics and court mannerism are usually not taught in the classroom because the court situation is necessary for the learning and cultivation of these ethics and mannerisms.

There are very important court mannerism that lawyers must learn before they can acceptably appear and pursue their cases in the courts.

Lawyers as law students begin to learn these ethics and mannerisms from participation in moot courts. Court mannerisms like maintaining eye contact with the Judges, addressing the judges with utmost respect, not disrupting the Judges when they are speaking, speaking at an appropriate volume and pace, how to and not to demonstrate in the courtroom, responding directly and accurately to questions, seeking the leave of the court when necessary, keeping the Judge’s interest and interacting with opposing counsels in the court room, are all learned in the moot court.

F. Develops teamwork skills

Teamwork skills or ability to collaborate is one of the foremost skills required by law firms in hiring lawyers. The moot court activities also helps to foster teamwork and coordination skills in the law student. Law students are usually divided into teams and required to work together in the entire process.

Even in presentation, students chambers are represented in the moot courts by teams of counsels who take turn to address the court on the various relevant issues. Each presenting teams may comprise of two to three students as the case may be, depending on the number of issues to be addressed.

The requirement to work together as teams in moot court activities teaches the students to perform well when they are together in as a team and analyze what are their strengths and weaknesses. The moot court experience helps Nigerian law students develop the necessary relationship and communication skills  required to work with different people and how to coordinate themselves.

G. Networking

Mooting gives  law students the avenue to network at various levels. Law students get to network at intra-faculty and inter-school moot competitions. Law students though rarely, are availed the opportunity to network at the international level in international moot competitions.

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One of the important benefits of mooting is that it helps the law student to network, connect and socialize with their colleagues across the globe for future collaborations and relations.

When law students from different faculties come to represent their chambers, classes, or even schools in moot court competitions, it gives them an opportunity to get invaluable exposure and connection to the outside world beyond the four walls of their faculties.

H. Internship and Career Advantage

All the skills that lawyers use in their day to day practice are learned by law students in the moot court activities. Also, the skills necessary to work with a law firm as an undergraduate law student or paralegal are developed in the mooting process, many of which have been discussed here already.

Mooting assists the law student to inculcate the prerequisite habits and discipline which are required by many of the Law firms and recruiters of both law interns and newly called to bar lawyers.

A law student who has no mooting experience will surely have no chance against one who’s resume evinces a wealth of mooting experience. Almost every lawyer can usually research, compose and draft but not every lawyer has the advocacy skills required to regularly appear before the court as a full time practitioner. 

A rich experience in mooting will make a fine addition to a law student’s resume. Some moot court judges who run law firms or who are practicing lawyers, select moot court contestants who perform exceptionally well as interns.

I. Enhances Time Management Skills

Time is life and life is time. Time management is crucial for success in any field or endeavor or life. A lawyer must be able to properly manage time in and outside of court, and also in the law office.

The moot court experience aids law students in improving their time management skills which is helpful not only during timed exams but also in professional career. Students are usually timed during presentation in the moot courts and are required to exhaust their arguments within the stipulated time.

When they fail to exhaust their arguments between the stipulated timeframe and are stopped, they are only entitled to make their submissions and prayers afterwards. This practical time management training which is obtained in the mooting process, helps the law student to develop crucial time management skills, for application in literally all areas of their lives.

J. Learning and Application of Procedural Laws

There is usually little time for undergraduate Nigerian law students to learn procedure laws in the classroom within the traditional semester period.

The Knowledge of procedural law by which the substantive laws can be engaged and applied are equally important if not even more important for law students. Nigerian Law school curriculums are literally entirely dedicated to the erudition of procedural laws.

Nigerian law students learn how to appreciate and apply procedural laws better in mooting preparations and presentations. Even though mooting does not usually occasion the filling of court processes, law students are usually made to moot on points of procedural laws and jurisdiction of courts whether entirely or partly. This enables them to learn procedural laws, as well as master how to apply them practically.

Conclusion

The history and facility of the Moot court tradition in Legal education insistently reinforces it as a crucial and indispensable aspect of legal training.

Mooting in legal education is an invaluable experience for law students as it helps them develop a wide range of practical skills, and gain depths of understanding of legal processes. The case is no in the Nigerian legal education system.

Just like their predecessors, mooting provides an avenue for Nigerian law students to practice their legal research and argumentation skills, as well as develop their public speaking and presentation abilities. It also gives Nigerian law students the opportunity to experience a Courtroom environment, allowing them to practice the procedural aspects of litigation and to develop their advocacy and negotiation skills.

Mooting also helps Nigerian law students to gain a better understanding of the law, and to become more confident in their legal knowledge and ability to apply it.

Finally, mooting is an excellent way for Nigerian law students to network with their peers, judges and legal professionals, which can help them to develop their professional contacts and secure employment opportunities. The revival of the Moot court in Nigerian undergraduate law faculties is necessary for the future of the Nigerian Judiciary.


Image Credit: University of Lagos (Mooters: Inioluwa Olaposi and Samuel Oluduro)


About Author

Israel Osarenoriabe is an indigenous undergraduate Law student of the University of Benin, Nigeria. He is a widely published writer, who has also authored both fictive and non-fictive works. He is also a certified Event Planner and a professional Graphics designer. He serves as a Supreme Court Justice of the Students Union of University of Benin at the time of writing this publication.

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