Image: L to R Georgina Barnes, Natasha Perry and Meghan Scolyer at Victoria Falls. Images courtesy of Georgina Barnes.
Being a small law school on an island has many advantages. One is smaller class sizes, so lecturers know their students well and are invested in their success, allowing them to flourish. One less obvious advantage is the enormous array of opportunities to participate in competitions the world over, due to the practical nature of the degree.
Mooting is a form of competition which allows law students to put theory into practise, by simulating court trials.
A team of three University of Tasmania Law students qualified to enter the Commonwealth Law Moot in Zambia in April this year, allowing them to test their skills on the world stage. They qualified by winning the Australian Law Students’ Association moot competition in 2018, placing them at the top of the country’s law students.
Georgina Barnes, a final year Law student and President of TULS, said Zambia was the perfect backdrop to prepare for a mooting competition, providing wonderful study breaks.
The moot was part of the Commonwealth Law Conference that was going on at the same time so there were lots of lawyers and judges from around the Commonwealth that were there which was really exciting.
“It was really good to get to meet all of those other legal professionals at the same time as meeting the students and mooting.
“Our hotel was right at Victoria Falls so we went for a walk out to the falls and had a bit of a look around and then we had to come back and start keeping on preparing and practising and reading cases and things.
“But we did get to do that sitting beside the pool with zebras walking around and giraffes and monkeys in the hotel. And then once the moot was over we all did the day trip to Botswana, so we decided to treat ourselves,” she said.
Georgina said the reason the University did so well was due to the practice-centric nature of the Law School.
“I think the way law is taught is really practical, so starting with foundations of public law taught by Anja Hilkemeijer we start mooting; and Anja is amazingly supportive of anyone who wants to do any kind of legal competition or mooting and really tries to develop students skills as soon as she can, ” Georgina said.
The fact that UTAS is like a quite a small law faculty means that there’s lots of contact with all of the lecturers.
“It means that we all get to know each other better. I mean if there’s only 100 or so students in a class, everyone will know everyone by the end of semester, everyone knows the lecturer, you can go and ask them any questions, and a lot of the staff are really involved in the students development and success,” she said.
Natasha Perry, a final year Law and Arts student and Georgina’s teammate, explained that she enjoys mooting because it not only assists her studies, it took her on safari in Africa.
“I like (mooting) because it puts a practical lens on everything you’ve learned. Now that I’ve done mooting, I’ve found that my grades have gotten better because I can look at it in a different way and know how to research a bit better. It helps you look at things in a different way,” she said.
“So you could sit and read textbooks, but being able to stand up and try to argue it to a professional and to make these really high levels arguments is a completely different skill set. mooting makes everything really practical, like there’s an actual solution and this is really beneficial. It’s not just about what’s the bare minimum that I could learn. (You think) to be able to win, I have to think about all these outside things so you don’t get caught by surprise,” Natasha said.
The fact that we have to moot for assessments from our third year means that we get all that training. Every one of our students has to moot as part of our degree, especially in the early years, which means that we get that experience and those skills.
A definite highlight of Natasha’s degree was preparing for the competition in Zambia.
“We were sitting in our rooms a few times practising mooting and we’d have to stop because there would be a zebra walking past. (We thought) well we can’t do this now because it’s too distracting.
“I think it’s rare to be able to do that but I’m very, very thankful that that has happened,” said Natasha. Natasha won the prize for best speaker at the Commonwealth Law Conference competition.
Anja Hilkemeijer, University Law lecturer says the benefits to students of mooting are enormous.
“It’s teaching students how to think like a lawyer and argue like a lawyer, giving them the confidence to do it, and the kind of soft skills that benefit all around it.”
While not all University of Tasmania Law students compete in moots in Africa, Anja believes anyone could be a lawyer.
My firm belief is that anyone can learn to be a good legal advocate. There’s nothing mysterious or magical about it, you don’t have to be born with a silver spoon, anyone can learn it and mooting is a great way to do that” said Anja. That is why all UTAS law students participate in a practice stream in their core units and all of them have the opportunity to participate in internal competitions.