Moot court is a prestigious and popular competitive activity throughout universities and law schools around the world. Participants play the roles of lawyers arguing an appeal before a panel of judges.
Compared to mock trial, moot court is relatively simple to get into, with less rules, and no witnesses. However, moot court often deals with more complex legal issues, and will require participants to engage with challenging questions and creative argumentation.
What are the roles?
In moot court, there are two sides - the appellant, and the respondent.
The appellant is the party that lost at the previous trial (where the majority of judges voted against them). They are seeing to overturn the previous court's ruling, by appealing to a higher court.
The respondent is the party that won at the previous trial. They present after the appellant, and aim to uphold the majority decision from the previous court.
Typically, students compete in pairs - so in a trial there are 2 appellants and 2 respondents. The two appellants present first. Followed by the two respondents.
How do you come up with arguments?
Getting into mooting may seem intimidating, but with this step by step guide, you can get a big head start.
Read the memo
For the typical moot, you'll be presented with a memo breaking down the case you're arguing. The memo will contain an outline of the facts, relevant laws, and the previous court's reasoning.
The memo will typically outline both the majority (the winning side) argument, as well as the dissent (the losing side). The appellant should focus on understanding the dissent, while the respondent should focus on the majority.
Understand the grounds
In order for there to be an appeal, there must be grounds (reasons) for it. This is the core of the issue that you're arguing, and all your arguments should be relevant to this.
Oftentimes, the legal memo will outline what is being appealed. Make sure you have a strong understanding of this - if you're going to win the game, you have to understand the conditions!
Summarize your arguments
At this point, it is helpful to outline the arguments that have been made for your side. Again, the appellant should focus on the dissent from the previous court, while the respondent should focus on the majority.
Some of the arguments may be more persuasive than others. Some arguments may seem unnecessary. But keep it all in there for now.
Read the case
Once you've got a good grasp on the arguments, it's time to do some further research. At this point, it is helpful to review the actual court case. The memo is a good summary, but to really excel in moot court, you'll need more information.
Some case memos will include the relevant case, but if it doesn't, simply Google the name of the case, and visit the official court website.
When reading the case, you don't have to read it all! Some cases are very long, and deal with issues that are irrelevant to the grounds of appeal. Find the paragraphs that are relevant to your arguments, and mark down the paragraph numbers, so you can cite it when the time comes.
Plan your presentation
At this point, you've got all the tools you need to make a great argument! Gather your strongest arguments, and start outlining your presentation.
Keep in mind, that in court, judges can ask question at any time. So for a 7 minute presentation, prepping 5-6 minutes is enough.
The strongest moot court presentations are less formal speech, and more casual conversation with the judge. So don't get too wedded to your script. Know your arguments by heart, and welcome the judge's questions. Engaging with the judge is the best way to show how well you know your arguments.
Moot cases typically deal with the most important legal cases, which appear at the Supreme Court.
One of the hardest parts about mooting is being able to respond to the judge's questions, and successfully counter any arguments they raise.
Mooting is typically done in teams of 2, though certain formats will have teams of 3 or 4.
At court, what judges are looking for is the answer to the question "what is the law, and what does it tell us to do."
How do you persuade the judge that you have the right answer? There are two ways to do this.
1) Argument using precedent
A precedent is a past legal case that deals with similar circumstances. Law follows the fundamental principles that similar facts will yield similar and predictable outcomes. By finding a case with similar facts, with an outcome that is favorable, you can make the argument that the court should follow this past precedent.
Arguments using precedent can be discredited by pointing out differences in facts.
2) Argument from policy
Every law has a purpose it was created to fulfil. A policy argument says "my interpretaton of the law is correct, because this interpretation will help us achieve that purpose."
To successfully make an argument about policy, you'll need to understand why this law was created in the first place, and think about the real life implications of court's decision. Remember that when the court makes its decision, their decision becomes law - and will serve as a precedent for future cases.
To make a compelling policy argument, think about the big picture effect of what you're arguing, how it's beneficial for society, and how it achieves the purpose of the law. Get creative!
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