Non-Competitive Advocacy: Building a Better Mooting Community for Everyone

In October 2016, I wrote an article about U of T Law’s competitive mooting program. I discussed how a success-based valuation of the program leads to inequalities among prospective mooters; that aspects of the program are incongruent with maximizing participation; and that the administration is letting us down in terms of support for the program and the number of moots available.

I wrote that article, in part, because most of the dialogue about competitive mooting happens between (and is about) those already involved in mooting. It seemed valuable to share the perspective of someone on the outside of the program to broaden the discussion.

I concede that I was also motivated by my disappointment at not receiving a competitive mooting spot. In retrospect, I should have sought more experience by trying out before 3L. Still, I was frustrated and confused to see peers receive their second or third mooting opportunity when I couldn’t get just one; I was discouraged that I could not see my scores or ranks, or determine how close (or far) I had been. Given that approximately 140 students tried out for around sixty positions, I doubt I am the only one who felt this way.

I could have written parts of that article with greater clarity, and I should address one particular line that described the Moot Court Committee’s (MCC) 2016 recap article as “lacking the honesty and introspection” of its predecessor. This was not a depiction of its authors as dishonest. It was a comment on the article itselfon its “boosterism” for the moot programas compared to the insights from the 2015 version.

In this article, I outline some further approaches I believe can improve the mooting experience for everyone and strengthen the community. This year’s MCC has taken significant steps to improve the mooting program, and my ideas are intended to build on those.

Transparency

In March 2015, the then-MCC made suggestions for the next year’s committee in a section entitled “We need more transparency,” stating that the lack of transparency was the largest hindrance to fair and effective try-outs. They suggested that mooters who wish to see their rank and score sheets should be able to. However, that policy has not yet been implemented.

I asked this year’s MCC why I couldn’t see my scores, and they replied:

“The MCC doesn’t release scores and rankings because [they] are purely numerical and would not provide the student any meaningful substantive feedback. Additionally […] we do not disclose scores in part to protect the privacy of judges and the integrity of the process.”

With respect, I see things differently here. Scores out of ten are intuitive; scoresheets would provide multiple values that together would yield a reasonable picture of how students performed, especially if statistics on median, average, or cut-off scores were included. Overall ranks would give an idea of how far students were from selection. Judges’ names could easily be redacted to maintain privacy. Making scores available would improve integrity, rather than harm it, by motivating judges to maintain consistency in their approach to scoring (a concept also put forward by the 2015 article).

Yet the strongest argument is a principled one. The value of transparency is apparent in most aspects of law school life, including many of our recent controversies: committee meetings being private; questions about whether financial aid is being distributed properly; the convocation debacle; and the decision to block the Gale Cup competitors from participating in the Commonwealth Moot.

Student support for transparency is robust, and transparency should be just as important for the MCC as it is for other organizations in the community.

Advocating for Accessibility

In their October 2016 article, the MCC acknowledged the value of the “norm” that students only participate in one upper-year competitive moot. Yet their response to my suggestion of a limit was that since the Faculty’s formal course criteria doesn’t prohibit participation in multiple moots, they can’t prohibit it either.

But regular course enrollment is not awarded to students based on performance and merit; this would be like the Faculty restricting registration in certain courses to students with HHs. Competitive moots are not like other credit courses.

If the “norm” is valuable, then the MCC should work to formalize it. In February, the MCC issued a highly critical statement to the Dean regarding the Gale controversy. MCC members showed they are quite willing and able direct their advocacy skills against Faculty policy. While these circumstances were unique, I call on the MCC to advocate for greater mooting accessibility with that same vigour.

The MCC should also be more vocal about advocating for new moots at the school, and about other accessibility initiatives. With nearly all mooting conversations focused on wins, awards, and advancements, it’s hard to know what else the MCC is pushing for.

It would be great to hear the MCC publicly advocate on behalf of the entire student body. I would like to see a willingness to openly challenge the administration’s policies and actions beyond situations where mooters’ interests are on the line.

Approachability

To be frank, the general response to my first article was hostile. It was commented on almost exclusively by current and former mooters or MCC members. Though a number of students messaged me, none who were offended by my article did so. No one even wrote out my nameI was just the “author.” I was not wanted at the table.

I think it would be worthwhile for the mooting communitypast, present, and futureto really consider this: Is the conversation only open to mooters who have “made it” competitively? Is hostility and dismissiveness the appropriate response to suggestions for change?

My experience has shown me that U of T Law students are dedicated to promoting fairness, inclusion, and critical thinking. There is no reason that the mooting community should be any different. But, in practice, that means inviting the student body at large to the conversation, and being approachable for those not already part of the club.

Final Thoughts

The MCC invests significant time and effort into our mooting program, and I know they and their future iterations will continue this work. My suggestions are not meant to devalue these efforts or disregard the positive impact they have.

The administration is ultimately the gateway to more mooting opportunities. If we want to moot, we should all take an active role in telling the Faculty. The MCC created a survey in the fall to poll student interest in new moots. I hope responses are abundant and the administration listens.

I stand by my first article. Many prospective mooters are being left behind, and something about the competitive mooting program needs to change. But, I would suggest that cooperation and community building are better ways of making this happen than hostility and exclusivity. We work better together than apart. As one student has put it, “collaboration is essential to every part of the law school process.”

If anyone has thoughts, please reach out to me or your SLS representatives. I also encourage you to talk to the MCC, to attend moots, and to write about it. The more people who join the discussion, the stronger the community will be.