Tortes and Torts: Sherlock’s with the 2018 Dean’s Cup Winners
Robynne Thompson (1L)
Tortes and Torts: Where a tired 1L stress eats while asking upper year students for help. (I’ve been trying to come up with a new tag line. I think this is my most accurate iteration thus far.)
This month I faced the stresses of the 1L moot with some good ol’ fashioned pub food at the Sherlock Holmes Pub. My undergrad is in Anthropology and Art History which involved very few presentations so I’m not overly experienced with public speaking. Writing about people and art also encourages making use of the bounties of the English language…so yeah, LRW is a challenge for me. Luckily, Neil Coghlan and Alec McIlwraith-Black, winners of the 2018 Dean’s Cup, gave me some tips on moot preparation, teamwork, and the judges.
Issue 1: Turning a (kind of boring) factum into an engaging oral argument
Neil suggests breaking the factum down into overarching themes and the start practicing in order to refine the elements of each argument. Neil and Alec credit a lot of their success to “playing up the sympathetic aspects of the case” and creating a compelling narrative.
Neil adds that using more emotive language than in the factum can help create enough emotion to convince the judges while still focusing on the substance of the arguments; “no judge wants to be read to.” At least not by me. Although I will do different voices for different characters if my audience is under the age of seven.
Alec recommends developing a one-page outline with bullet points during the process of practicing. With enough practice, you should know the details of each point. The outline helps you stay on track and narrow in on what you should be talking about.
Issue 2: Teamwork makes the dream work
When it comes to pinpointing the reason for their success at the Dean’s Cup, Neil and Alec look to each other. Neil said Alec carried the team. Alec said Neil did. And, after hearing a few horror stories of moot partnerships gone wrong, it was a beautiful exchange to witness.
Not only did Neil and Alec reap the benefits of their partnership, they both noted the important role of the opposing council. Practicing with the opposing side provides a chance to give each other questions and work through the arguments. The practice of answering questions helps determine any gaps in logic and what arguments will be most effective.
Sub Issue A: Letting down my teammate (Alternative heading: I’m sorry, Chelsea)
Neil reassured me, “as long as you’re willing to commit to getting better and putting in time,” that’s sure to be appreciated by your teammate. Alec adds that being on the same page in terms of amount of practice also saves friendships and moots.
Issue 3: Confronting questions from the judges
Responding on the fly seems to be one of the most nerve-wracking and intimidating aspects of the moot. But our Dean’s Cup winners have got us covered.
For Alec, adjusting your attitude is key, “the biggest piece of advice that I really took to heart last year is to relish the opportunity to be challenged. Get into a mindset where you’re not afraid to be challenged because it’s your chance to prove how much you know.” Neil also noted that it’s important to have a back-up if you don’t get any questions – just something you can talk about for a few minutes.
Sub issue A: Showing my knowledge when I don’t know much
1L moot judges are volunteers. Out of the kindness of their hearts, or perhaps for a love of seeing 1Ls sweat, they are approaching this moot issue with different areas of expertise. They may know a lot about s. 12, or they may not. Ultimately, as Alec notes, it’s an “opportunity to discuss an interesting point of law with someone who is also interested in it.” And that’s actually pretty cool.
So, even if you’re feeling panicked that a judge will ask you some extremely specific question about s. 12 (that I can’t even hypothetically posit because that’s how little I know), take solace in the fact that these are complicated issues that even Supreme Court judges disagree about. Besides, judges are more afraid of you than you are of them. (Disclaimer: neither Neil or Alec expressly stated nor directly or indirectly implied that this is the case. But it’s probably true.)
Sub issue B. On not getting frazzled after a question
Neil suggests keeping your answers narrow so you can maintain your place in your general outline. Not going off on tangents is clearly going to be difficult for me. And if you really don’t know the answer? Try to stumble your way through it. But if the question is getting too broad, Neil recommends saying ‘this is beyond the scope of what we’re considering’ rather than ‘I don’t know.’
Neil points out the this is a new process for virtually everyone in 1L and it’s naturally nerve-wracking. But it could also be fun. Mooting is “engaging and challenging compared to papers and tests. It’s a new experience and embodies advocacy…and that’s exciting if you let it be.”
In conclusion…Was this article point first? No. Am I good at legal writing? Definitely not. But hey, at least I structured this article with three clear points, right? In fact, I was so busy focussing on the structure that I *almost* forgot about the main reason I write these things: to eat, think, and write about food.
Sherlock’s will always have a special place in my heart. A 20% discount for law students, beer and cider, and a stellar menu of classic pub foods. Really, what could be better than tater tots topped with gravy, bacon, and mushrooms? (described by Neil as “what you’d expect. It’s good in an I-know-I’ll-feel-terrible-later way.” Sounds perfect.) Treat your moot partner to some discounted comfort food at Sherlock’s.