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Deakin (Students) Speaking – Practical Legal Skills Training and the Vis Moot

In my previous post on Deakin Speaking, I commented on 10 years of involvement – as a student, judge and coach – with the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna, and the Vis (East) Moot in Hong Kong. In that post, I foreshadowed three further contributions to Deakin Speaking, addressing the Vis Moot. This is the first of those contributions – Deakin (Students) Speaking – on the topic of practical legal skills training and the Vis Moot.

Good law programs pay careful attention to scaffolding learning and assessment tasks across the course of a student’s degree. Students will learn a variety of different skills, at different (and appropriate) times. Much of a law student’s study will be doctrinal – focusing on the content of various areas of law, and that law’s application to various patterns of fact. Practical legal skills – where the law’s content is applied in a practical setting – are another important area of learning. Practical legal skills can be developed through activities inside and outside of the curriculum. The competitions portfolio of the Deakin Law Students’ Soceity, for example, organises a range of student competitions based around practical legal tasks such as negotiations, mediations, client interviews, and witness examinations. The Vis Moot is a particularly interesting vehicle for the development of legal skills, in the practical application of international commercial law – and for the Deakin Law School, a way to get ‘Deakin (Students) Speaking’ within the LLB curriculum.

The Vis Moot – as a moot court competition – involves teams of students arguing a hypothetical legal case. Mooting is immediatley identifiable with oral argument – the oral presentation of the case. The explanation of the law, and the persuasion effected through the delivery of argument, is a highly visible and exciting aspect of the event’s practical legal skills training. That oral argument involves ‘Deakin (Students) Speaking’ in the most literal sense.

Mooting of any kind, however, also involves significant behind-the-scenes preparation. As I write today’s contribution, the 2014 / 2015 Deakin Vis Moot team continues their research and argument development well ahead of the oral rounds to be held in the three weeks prior to Easter next year. The law must be researched, understood and analysed before arguments can be developed, and that development then continually refined. In this way, even before students undertake their first moot, practical legal skills are developed through teams’ preparatory work and daily interactions. While this preparatory work sees students employ and develop a range of skills – including research, writing and teamwork skills – it also involves ‘Deakin (Students) Speaking’ in a literal sense as members of teams must interact effectively between themselves. In team meetings, they will explain the state of their research on various issues to the larger group, and must work collaboratively to resolve differences over possible approaches and arguments. Teams must also work hard to tackle the spectre of internal inconsistencies – inconsistencies between different arguments that the one side might present, which undermine the overall case. Internal inconsistencies may be deliberate features of hypothetical cases students tackle in competitions like the Vis Moot, and it is only by effective internal communications that teams can work out the best way to overcome them.

Legal communication is, however, not only oral. Another important practical skills aspect of the Vis Moot is its written legal advocacy component. The aim is the same as oral argument – to persuade a decision maker – though the context of written legal submissions is very different. There are no visual cues, no testing of the argument by way of questions from arbitrators, and no back-and-forth between opposing sides as might occur in the oral rounds. The skills required are therefore quite different. Written advocacy exercises preceding oral argument are a key feature of many mooting events. In the Vis Moot, teams’ written submissions are separately assessed to the eventual oral argument. In this way, the Vis Moot sees ‘Deakin (Students) Speaking’ through their written legal submissions.

The Vis Moot inseparably wraps up these three aspects of practical legal skills training, amongst others, in the progression of the overall event. Students commence preparing written submissions for the Claimant (the party bringing the case), then file written submissions for the Respondent (the party being pursued), and then turn their attention to preparing for the oral arguments – all the while working collaboratively with their like-minded peers. It is not surprising, then, to see comments such as those from the University of Ottawa team (prevailing at the Vienna oral rounds in 2011) citing their program, their preparation and their people as ‘three assets’ that ‘made the difference’.

The Vis Moot sees ‘Deakin (Students) Speaking’, and likewise students from all around the world developing practical legal skills in an internationalised setting. As a program through which practical legal skills may be developed, the Vis Moot is truly an extraordinary educational opportunity, and takes a distinguished place alongside the various other aspects of learning and assessment occurring over the course of a student’s study of law.

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