LRMSP – a trainee’s perspective

One of the rooms used for mooting; it is furnished with facing rows of wooden seating, with a lecturer's desk at the far end of the room.
‘The Cube,’ former economics library and present-day mock courtroom.

One of the more unusual aspects of my role in the Law Library’s Academic Services team this year has been my involvement in the Legal Research and Mooting Skills Programme, or LRMSP. Although a lot of libraries offer some sort of research skills classes, especially at the beginning of the year, the LRMSP is a very different beast: a compulsory course for first year law undergraduates, involving assignments and a pass/fail practical exam. If students don’t pass the course at some point in their degree, they will not graduate with a qualifying law degree. The course is entirely run by Kate and Nicola, the Legal Research librarians – I’m based in their office, so I was inevitably going to hear a lot about it over the course of my traineeship. At the beginning of the year I’d only heard of moots in the medieval sense (which at least is still law-related; they were a form of early law-keeping through community debate) – but I was keen to find out more about the programme and what I could do to help out.



Michaelmas Term

My first introduction to the LRMSP was before term started, when I was still getting to grips with the general content of the Law Library. Although some trainees arrive with a legal background, I’m certainly not one of them – this put me in a similar position to the incoming undergraduates, many of whom won’t have done so much as an A-Level in Law. I spent most of September reading through LibGuides and introductory handouts, familiarising myself with different legal texts, case citations, and databases like LexisNexis and Westlaw. I also had a go at this year’s Unit One assessment, a short resource-finding exercise that tested some of the knowledge I was acquiring.

A few weeks later, it was the students’ turn. Unit One is very simple, and probably similar to other library inductions – the new undergraduates attend a short class and are walked through basic legal research skills, as well as being shown how to find resources on SOLO and course Canvas sites. Once they’ve attended this, they complete the assessment and are good to go for the term. As Oxford terms hit the ground running, we aim to get through these classes in Week 0, giving the students something to work with for those Week 1 essays. However, the quick turnaround meant that this was the first time most of the students had visited the library, especially since ongoing Covid-19 restrictions meant that most of this year’s induction sessions took place online. My main job here was to hover in the main reading room with a list of names, spotting lost-looking students, checking them in, and ferrying them down to their class on the ground floor. (This was a usefully early point in the traineeship to realise that readers are significantly less likely to mistake me for a student if I’m holding a clipboard). I managed to sit in on a couple of these classes, since a lot of the information would also be useful to me in the coming year.

Hilary Term

To be honest, this was a very quiet term for me, and I mostly got on with the sort of everyday tasks you can read about in this year’s Day in the Life post. The LRMSP was still moving in the background – as onsite working increased after the winter break, I was aware of Kate and Nicola interviewing potential moot judges throughout the term. Occasional admin tasks also came my way, such as creating over sixty individual court groups on Canvas or reading over student instructions to see if they made sense to someone less familiar with the course requirements.

Trinity Term: Research Classes

After the relative calm of the past few months, Trinity Term launched straight into Unit Two. This involves three elements, all compulsory: the students need to complete a short assignment, attend a 90-minute research class, and participate in a moot, a practical exam requiring them to present their research in a mock court setting.

The assignments came first: these are part accountability devices, requiring students to check the date, time, and subject of their exam well in advance, and part primers for the research class, asking them to come up with the beginnings of a research plan for their specific court problem. By the end of Week 1, I was helping to mark these as they came in – this meant familiarising myself with the full set of case problems, checking each submission against the court schedule, and either marking assignments as complete or asking students to have another look at the details and resubmit. This was all recorded on the LRMSP master spreadsheet, which quickly became a central motif of the term.

Week 2 brought assignments, assignments, and more assignments, so I got on with marking those while Kate and Nicola prepared for the research classes. These broke down everything students needed to know ahead of their moots, from argument structure to court etiquette, and are so packed with information that anyone arriving more than ten minutes late for the session would usually be sent away and asked to attend a later one. In hindsight, it would have been useful if I’d also managed to sit in on one of these, as it would probably have saved a lot of questions down the line.

The classes ran throughout Week 3, with four sessions running each day. Since teaching on such a tight schedule meant that Kate and Nicola didn’t have a lot of spare time for admin, I spent the week helping to track attendance. A rotating cast of helpful library staff stood outside at the beginning of each class, making sure everyone signed the attendance register and checking off attendees on a printed list. I then used these lists to update the master spreadsheet, along with a separate list of people who had signed up to a class but not appeared. Although the bulk of the assignments were submitted in Week 2, late submissions and corrections were still trickling in – I dealt with these when I could, as students weren’t able to attend the class without a complete and accurate assignment. I also kept an eye on the ever-changing signup portals, making sure that upcoming class lists were accurate in terms of names and assignment status. Keeping all of this up to date meant that when Kate and Nicola finished teaching for the day, they could focus on responding to messages and issues that had come directly to the LRMSP inbox and preparing for the next day’s classes.

After the last class of the week, I went through the master spreadsheet to make a list of everyone who was still yet to attend a class, which Kate and Nicola then used to schedule some catch-up classes. These went ahead in Week 4, after which we had a clearer idea of how many students would be participating in the moots and could update the court schedule accordingly. I then added each set of students to the court groups I’d set up on Canvas earlier in the year. This was where each participant would submit their skeleton argument ahead of their moot, giving their opponent a chance to look it over and perhaps adjust their oral argument accordingly.

Three timing cards, labelled 5 minutes, 2 minutes, and time.
Timing cards used by clerks.

Trinity Term: Moots

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering – what exactly is a moot? Like I said earlier, it’s a mock court, although the LRMSP slightly modifies the standard structure for the sake of fair examination. Each court involves one appeal case, one judge, and up to four students – two acting as appellants, arguing to overturn the original judgement, and two as respondents, arguing to uphold the original judgment. Students are also asked to bring along a court clerk, usually a friend who has already mooted (or isn’t a law student), who will act as timekeeper for each speaker. In most settings the appellant/respondent pairs would obviously work together, but for these moots, each student focuses on just one of two appeal points, ensuring that their grade will not be affected by the performance (or absence) of anyone else in their court.

Each speaker gives a ten-minute submission on their respective point, during which the judge will question them. Since not everyone studying a law degree necessarily wants to moot ever again if they can help it, these aren’t assessed in terms of winning or losing the case. Instead, the judges are instructed to question the students in a way which exposes the quality of their research and argument – they then recommend whether each student should pass the course based on this. The students’ performance across other elements of the course is also considered, another reason why the master spreadsheet is so important. Although it is possible to resit the course in second year, it’s generally much easier for everyone involved if as many people as possible get through the first time around.

The moots took place in Week 7, occupying the seminar rooms on the ground floor of the St Cross Building for four days. We had over sixty courts to get through, so we ran three simultaneously (each with a different judge) up to six times a day. My part in all this varied from hour to hour: I would help check mooters in as they arrived, make tea and coffee for judges, and run up to the library to print off assessment sheets and other documents as necessary. If the mooters brought their own clerk, I’d find the case-specific crib sheet and explain the process to them – just a matter of reading out some formalities and holding up the timekeeping cards.

I was also on standby to step in as a clerk myself if needed, although several staff members had also signed up to help out with clerking, providing a reassuring back-up option amidst the chaos of check-ins and dropouts. If I wasn’t needed as a clerk and the librarians needed to discuss something upstairs, I would sit outside the seminar rooms for the duration of the exam in case any incidents arose, keeping the hallway quiet and redirecting people whose usual classes had been relocated for the week. I wasn’t needed all the time, but the moots turned out to be inescapable – even my desk shifts involved directing people to the seminar rooms or helping to track down reports for an upcoming exam!

This was the first time the moots had been run in person since 2019, and I think they went well overall. I got to build on my previous experience of managing spreadsheets and herding people into the right places, only had to rescue one clerk from a particularly lengthy post-court discussion, and (almost) managed to get through the week without being mistaken for a mooter, so they certainly seemed like a success on my end. I enjoyed it, but it was a very intense week, so I was a little relieved to get back to my usual range of library tasks while Kate and Nicola finished processing judge feedback and finalising grades. The LRMSP certainly wasn’t something I envisioned myself doing when I first started applying for traineeships, but it’s been an incredibly effective demonstration of the purpose and quirks of legal research, as well as an opportunity to see how teaching and librarianship can overlap. Clerking for courts was a great opportunity to hear some of the material I deal with on a daily basis in action, and I will say that I can see how mooting, when it’s not for an essential exam, could be quite fun. However, my actual legal knowledge, although now non-zero, still remains limited – I won’t be putting myself forward to be quizzed on contract law any time soon.


Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library

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