Auckland Law School Wins Client Interviewing Competition in Australia

14 August 2013
Arnold and Sizer - client interviewing
Luke Sizer and Philip Arnold

Defending a drug-smoking belligerent young driver with no understanding of the dangers of driving under the influence has led to a major Australasian win for two University of Auckland law students.

Luke Sizer (23, of Te Atatu) and Philip Arnold (22, of Titirangi), part of a seven-strong Auckland Law School cohort in Perth for the Australian Law Students’ Association Competitions, took part in the client interviewing competition and beat teams from throughout Australia and New Zealand to win the final against the University of Queensland.

Despite having to brush up on unfamiliar Australian employment, accident, medical and intellectual property law, the pair successfully interviewed a ‘client’ – an actress briefed with a script that set out the legal difficulty she was in – in front of an audience and judge in the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

The two team members say the competition, which included teams from Nepal, Korea, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, has whetted their appetite for more.

“We were confident in our performance, but found it difficult establishing a rapport with our ‘client’ who had acted in a fairly unsociable manner,” Philip Arnold says.

“We didn’t feel confident of a win, despite a lot of positive feedback from the spectators and our actress,” Luke Sizer says. “We had taken a hard line on the ethical issues that did not go down well with the judges.

“So it was fantastic to hear our names announced at the black-tie event, and we were proud to sing the New Zealand national anthem in front of 600 Australian delegates and the Chief Justice.”

The challenging competition included three preliminary rounds, with the top eight teams going through to the quarter finals.

“Each round involves a ‘client’, played by an actor, and we act as their lawyers. They are briefed with a script that frequently includes a difficult persona that we must deal with – belligerent, arrogant, stressed, anxious and so on,” Luke says.

“They also play coy around the situation, hiding key facts and details that we have to coax out. Lastly, they will generally have a major ethical issue that we must advise on…juicy things like adultery, drug taking and lying.

“Once we have that information, we give legal advice on their options and liabilities.”

Philip says each round of the competition gave a set time limit to advise the client, pinpoint their legal issues, debrief and assign the workload in a way that would happen in reality. The key plank of their preparation was critical self-evaluation after every round, focusing on what they did poorly and developing strategies to improve.

“We are very humbled to have won this. We are both grateful to the competition officers who organised coaching for us, the Faculty for their support and of course to those we consulted prior to the conference and who had useful tips,” Philip says.

“We are also very thankful for the support of Russell McVeagh, which covered our travel costs to Perth.”

The pair will head into practice next year – Philip at Minter Ellison and Luke at Bundle Findlay – but have signed up for the Greg Everard Memorial Moot, which they began working on while in Australia. Later in the year, Luke will prepare for the New Zealand competition with another colleague, as Philip will be travelling in Europe at that time.

“We are both very grateful for the opportunity to participate in competitions like this, and hope the trophy will stay in Auckland for several more years,” Philip says.

All four Auckland teams broke into the quarter-finals in their respective competitions, meaning that out of more than 40 universities across Australasia, the Auckland Law School was in the top eight for every competition entered.

The other Auckland competitors were Kimberley Eccles and Steph Panzic (negotiation competition), Caitlin Hollings (witness examination), Gretta Schumacher and Tim Conder (mooting).