The ALSA Paper Presentation rules can be found here.
The Paper Presentation Competition is for jurisprudents, those who aspire to law reform, or those with cutting analysis of a recent case is the Paper Presentation Competition.
A different style of competition, Paper Presentation involves researching and writing a legal essay and then presenting it to a panel of judges. Competitors compete individually and the papers may be written on any legal topic.
The panel may ask questions as they see fit during and after the presentation to find the depth of knowledge and understanding the competitor has in the chosen field. Competitors are assessed on the essay and the presentation.
The winner of the National Paper Presentation Final will have their paper published in ALSA’s Academic Journal.
If the ALSA competitions were the Olympics, it would go without saying that mooting would be the 100m sprints. Very flash, very glamorous, and very rewarding for that one winner, streaking across the final line to claim the gold. The rest of the pack (face it, no one cares about second place in the 100m) come home tired, sore, injured, and taking with them nothing but the fragile shell of their former selves.
If the ALSA competitions were the Olympics, negotiations would be the boxing, to be witnessed only by the sadistic salivating at the prospects of blood spilling, while competitors try to convince themselves that their skills are a lot more refined than simply bludgeoning their opponents into a corner. If the ALSA competitions were the Olympics, client interviewing would be the equestrian; quaint but dull. If the ALSA competitions were the Olympics, witness examination would be the clay shooting. Targets are lined up for the shot, but there’s nothing really impressive about getting them, because, after all, they’re just clay pigeons reliant on the script they were provided with that morning. If ALSA competitions were the Olympics, IHL would be the syncronised swimming. It looks like law. It sounds like law. It smells like law. But there’s something very strange about it; practitioners dancing confidently on the uncertain pool of international law and regulation.
If the ALSA competitions were the Olympics, the Paper Presentation would be the marathon. In the marathon, there are no tricks. There is preparation and there is preparation. The work is done before you step off the plane. While the mooters frantically look for USBs to print submissions while panicking because they didn’t get a chance to read R (on the application of Michael Brooke and Gagik Ter-Oganisyan)-do-you-think-it-matters-hang-on-wasn’t-that-in-obiter-oh-I-can’t-remember-who’s-got-my-USB-hey-you’ve-missed-a-semi-colon-at-5.3, the paper presenters casually mill, having a glass of red and comparing notes with other colleagues (there are no competitors in paper presentation) about their research.
The paper presentation involves the preparation of a substantive piece of writing (around 5,000 words) and then the presentation of that paper to a panel who have the opportunity to question the ideas in that paper. It’s that simple. No tricks. No hidden surprises.
The papers are submitted well in advance of the conference, and are marked. Then at the conference, each competitor is given 20 minutes to present their paper uninterrupted. Following this, the panel of judges will ask questions to flesh out any ideas presented. The winner is selected on the basis of both the marks received for their paper, and their performance as a presenter.
There’s not much to be said about the papers themselves. Generally, people present papers that have already been marked for the purposes of university assessment, and so you’ve already received that feedback on what can be worked on. The process of reviewing work that you previously considered finished is frustrating, but essential. Your paper needs to be clear and persuasive to more than just yourself. Seek feedback and value it.
In terms of the presentation, there are a few essentials.
The first is to remember that the material that you are presenting will be new to your audience. You may have spent three months thinking about this neat little legal issue. Your audience has not. It is your job first to explain your idea, and second, to persuade your audience to your particular viewpoint.
The second is to keep it slow. Again, the synapses in your head are connecting as you blurt out your idea. The synapses in the audiences’ mind only get the opportunity to connect after they have heard what you have said and have processed it. Give them time.
The third is to connect to your audience. Look at them and talk to them as though you are talking with them. Try to see if they are following. If you’re met with blank looks; stop and take a step back and see if you can work out where you lost them. The great thing about the paper presentation is that for the most part the audience are your colleagues (I was going to say competitors; but no, I’ve already dismissed that label as inappropriate). They like long discussions on legal issues – that’s why they’re there. So enjoy the process of engaging them and convincing them about your pet legal issue.
Don’t worry about the panel. They’re not mooting judges and their style is not adversarial. They are academics; wanting to plumb the depths of new frontiers of legal analysis. They’re enjoying this too. The questions asked are not mooting-esque tests, but are more probing the idea that you are trying to sell. Does it stand up to a common sense test? Have you considered alternative theoretical approaches to your topic? Why have you considered x test more applicable than y?
My final bit of advice is to practice explaining your paper to a non-legal family member or friend (NLFMOF). If you can explain your idea in simple terms, comprehensible to your NLFMOF, without reliance on jargon, historionics or emotion, then you’re set.