I was fortunate enough to be selected as a participant in the mock trial hosted by the OULS on 27/03/2021, run by The Lawyer Portal, and I’d like to tell you all about the experience in hopes it may encourage some of you to take part and give a realistic look at the level of involvement necessary.
In the interest of disclosure, I will mention that as an OULS committee member I was aware and involved in discussions surrounding the mock trial but not in the organisation of the event or selection of participants or observers. There are never any favourites with selection for events with the OULS, I simply used the RSVP link like everyone else, as a paid member, and crossed my fingers for the random name generator!
As soon as the email came through, I was eager to apply as all advocacy experience is good experience and I’m hoping it will help with future applications where I can detail any advocacy experience.
When the selection email came through, I was very pleased, but the number of attachments (5) was slightly daunting as these were long files. I was slightly concerned this was going to take forever to prepare for and cut into my study time (like most of us this feels thin on the ground most times anyway!).
When I started reading through them though I was pleasantly surprised, They were easy to follow, very interesting and only took around 20 minutes to half an hour to fully read all the information. Once I’d read them, I felt much more excited, and a lot less nervous.
I was selected to act for the prosecution, as an examination in chief of one of the prosecution witnesses. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, whilst I was thrilled to be selected, I was *slightly* put out. For those of you that may not know, an examination in chief is questioning your own witness. You cannot ask leading questions. This is a way for your witness to tell the jury the facts in their own words, so open-ended questions only (who, when, what, and so on).
I personally felt advocates can practice their skills more on cross-examination or opening and closing statements. However, I was pleased to be able to practice anything at all and my lovely fellow committee member Elizabeth, who is currently doing the bar course, said how much there really is to learn about 'examination in chief', which I myself discovered when it came to really thinking about the questions I would ask and how I would ask them.
What I really wanted was to see other advocates at work to see how they do it, and whilst I was lucky enough to get a mini-pupillage, this was over a year ago and due to the COVID-19 situation I haven’t been able to secure anything else, or even go along to courts and sit in the public gallery to observe. Another challenge to this is UK trials are not recorded or televised so I could find very little to watch online. There is a lot of American material available, but I deliberately avoided this as I know our learned friends across the pond have very different rules as advocates and I did not want to be put on the wrong track.
I did manage to do two a few things which I feel really helped. Firstly, I asked on Twitter. I have quite a few law students who follow me and whom I follow in return and hoped somebody might have tips for me. The best tip I got was to know your case. So, I spent about twenty minutes every night for a week just reading through and making sure I did indeed know the case. The second-best tip I received was to think of it as telling a story to the jury, what story are you trying to tell and how will you tell it? I found this a really useful way of looking at it and it helped focus the questions I wrote.
Another thing I did was good old YouTube. As I said, there is very little around, but I was able to find a 6-part mini-series following a group of state school students who barristers mentored through a mock trial. If you’d like to watch I definitely recommend it, it’s from BBC Teach on YouTube and the first episode is Mock criminal trial (1/6) – case and plea – Modern Studies – Young Legal Eagles, then the next episodes follow on. It’s from 4 years ago but I picked up a lot of helpful things from here.
When it came to writing the questions, I did go a little overboard. As with these events, there are inevitably people who do not show up, I decided to prepare for the whole trial as if I were sole counsel for the prosecution. In hindsight, I would not recommend doing this. It obviously took a lot more time than if I’d just prepared for my own role and in the end, it wasn’t necessary.
The attendants who did not turn up were acting for the defence (which I had not prepared for) and witnesses, and as I was acting for the prosecution I was not permitted to step in and be a witness!
I felt quite nervous the morning of the mock trial and in these strange times, it felt really bizarre getting dressed up in court dress to sit in my study at the laptop! As mentioned, there were a couple of issues with people not showing up, but this was remedied by people being willing to step into other roles at immediate notice. That cannot have been easy, but I am immensely grateful they did so as it meant the mock trial ran much smoother and the people stepping in did a fantastic job.
The standard of advocacy and questioning was really high, and it was clear people had really prepared well and I am certain will have bright futures as advocates if that is the route they wish to pursue in future.
I would also like to express my thanks on behalf of the OULS committee to those that have sent in feedback. Feedback helps us to learn and grow and deliver the best possible experience for students. I have included below two pieces of feedback we have received from students:
PARTICIPANT - “Mock trials are an invaluable opportunity for prospective advocates of all experience and skill levels to get stuck in and learn about the trial process. This is the second mock trial I have taken part in and continue to find new areas I might improve on each time. What I especially liked about this mock trial is that there was a very supportive and friendly atmosphere. There were also no formal time constraints, so you could spend more time getting the most out of your witness and less time worrying about time limits.
We had some fantastic witness performances in this session, so even if you don’t fancy being part of the prosecution or defence then there is something for you. Why not test out your acting chops by being a witness? It really is a unique opportunity to work on your empathy, communication skills, and that most vital and illusive of advocacy skills, sincerity."
OBSERVER - “The Mock Trial scheduled last weekend was very impressive.
I must congratulate the OULS and the participants for an outstanding performance. I am not sure how much time you have all devoted to preparing for the mock trial. The participants did so well! I appreciated how Jodie, at the last minute, accepted to serve as back-up for someone else. She did so well and was instrumental in ensuring the smooth flow of the mock trial.
I also particularly appreciated how most of the participants presented themselves professionally. It was too bad there was no summing up - I understand the participants were not available.
The "judge" was excellent in coordinating everything as well. Overall, it was an excellent event”
In conclusion, I would highly recommend taking part in any future events and I am very grateful I got the opportunity to do so. Any public speaking or advocacy practice looks brilliant on applications and helps hone the skills we need as law students. It was not particularly time-consuming to take part.
I found it a far lighter commitment than mooting, for example. Even just observing I feel would be beneficial, as watching other advocates and public speakers gives you easy tips as you see what was effective and perhaps what was not. The bonus of being an observer is also there is no workload at all; simply show up, watch and learn!
Thank you for reading and I hope you found this article helpful.
By Chloe Lydell.
OULS News Reporter