Experience An Advocacy Competition

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Blackstone’s National Criminal Advocacy Competition

First thing firsts, the Blackstone’s National Criminal Advocacy Competition is a lot different from mooting.

Advocacy is all about thinking on your feet. Unlike mooting you don’t have a bundle in front of you – in advocacy the best preparation to have is note form, so it can easily be altered depending on what has changed in the court room.

It is a totally different experience – but one that will teach you equally as important skills.

The competition is one focusing solely on Criminal law - therefore reading the case papers and witness statements is really interesting and gets your brain thinking.

What happens?

Be ready to think on your feet! Credit:mutsmuts

Initially my partner and I were paired up with another university – the preliminary rounds consisted of two rounds, which we took it in turn to organise (the venue, clerk, judge etc.) Having no experience meant we were apprehensive and really didn’t know what to expect. Essentially we needed some guidance, and were lucky enough to meet with barristers who also work at Grays Inn, they gave us tips and advice on court room etiquette and techniques to use.

The first round involved a mock trial – cross examining, opening and closing speeches – the whole experience like it is in real life. None of the universities in the competition had had any advocacy training, which meant that the competition was a real learning experience for all the teams involved.

Although the first round was nerve racking it was really good fun and definitely made us more confident for the next round. Soon after we got the papers for the second preliminary round – this time on pre-trial applications, again with the same format, against the same team.

At the end of each round, the Judge gave each of us some feedback and advice, including little tips which made a lot of difference.

The top ten teams were sent through to the advocacy finals weekend at the University of Hertfordshire – one of the most valuable and enjoyable experiences.

The Advocacy Finals Weekend

The team we were against in the preliminary rounds also made it through, so we already knew people on arrival, but all the other teams were friendly and good fun, we spent the weekend getting to know each other as well as competing against one another.

The University had recently built a replica Crown Court room – very life like (in fact an episode of Silk was filmed there). Definitely made us feel more in character!

Friday was spent meeting everyone, the organisers and other teams – touring the campus and seeing what was in store for the next day, we also had an advocacy class taught by a practicing Barrister for some last minutes tips.

Saturday was the day of competing; we were on first at 9am. Wigs and gowns were provided and a whole host of people were there including real judges, barristers and solicitors, a jury and actors to play our witnesses, it felt very real and definitely helped make the experience.

Standing up in a situation like that was totally out of our comfort zone but as soon as the trial begun, we started to feel comfortable and enjoyed the whole experience.

Afterwards the judges gave us individual feedback, both positive and constructive; it was valuable advice from people who have been practicing criminal law for a number of years.

The rounds continued throughout the day, and in the evening we attended a dinner with the judges from the day and all the other teams, it was a great night, where we mixed informally with the barristers who shared with us stories and tips.

Top tips

I would definitely recommended being a part of this competition, and some of the best things we learnt throughout it would be:

  • Be confident – every judge will comment on your demeanour and confidence in the court room, it makes a big difference if you act like you know exactly what you’re talking about (even if you don’t)!
  • Be prepared to be unprepared! – there will always be a witness who doesn’t say what you want them to say seemingly destroys your run of thought and whole argument! If this happens – best advice is to not let it show and move on using another path to get to the outcome you want.

This competition is well worth getting involved in, it is really good fun and gives valuable skills which can be used in a number of other situations. Plus it’s a great thing to have on a CV or to talk about at interviews – I’ve definitely found that law firms are intrigued by the competition and what it entails, and are especially impressed at the confidence the participants showed by taking part with no previous advocacy training.

The UH/Blackstone's National Criminal Advocacy Competition is organised by Neal Geach and Nicola Monaghan of the University of Hertfordshire, and is sponsored by Oxford University Press and the Criminal Bar Association.

Many thanks to Samantha Tayler, (LLB3) for this excellent piece.