Moot Court – A Law Student’s Cure for Stage Fright & Writer’s Block

Moot_Court

In law school, it is widely understood that getting involved in moot court, mock trial, or a law journal is an essential part of the student experience. Honestly, law school will be as beneficial as you make it and if you want to make yourself stand out in the sea of law students, you need to make the effort to increase and expand your skill set to make yourself marketable. In addition to being a moot court competition competitor, I had the opportunity to organize competitions on a regional and national level while in law school and now serve as a moot court judge and moot court problem author. Based on my experiences with moot court and as a practicing attorney, I encourage you to be a better lawyer by challenging yourself and participating in at least one moot court competition.

What is Moot Court?

Moot Court Round

A Moot Court Round.
Photo credit: Appellate Lawyer’s Association.

Moot court participants argue fictitious cases as if they were presenting the case before an appellate court, which in most instances is the United States Supreme Court. While mock trial begins at the beginning of the initiation of a legal case, moot court deals solely with appeals of final decisions. Participants argue their case before a panel of judges and are usually required to write a legal brief on the particular certified questions implicated in the appeals process. Moot court teams consist of 2 (or 3) competitors who are required to argue their position in front of the panel of judges to see who is better able to articulate the arguments as set forth in their brief.

Oral Advocacy and Writing Skills

Moot court is a two-step process in which the competitor not only has to make oral arguments, but they also need to be able to make their arguments in written form.  The successful moot court competitor will learn how to effectively write appellate briefs, ultimately learning the importance of legal standards of review and persuasive and well-organized writing. As a moot court competitor, you will engage in extensive research in areas of the law that your peers may not have had the opportunity to master or even get exposure to. Essentially, you will become an expert in an area of law that you may never choose to study in your regular course work.

After crafting your written arguments, you will work on the eloquence and confidence needed to present those arguments verbally. Whether arguing for the petitioner or the respondent, each team member trains to present their legal arguments in a cohesive and persuasive manner to most effectively get their point across. This is not an exercise in general public speaking where you present a speech and sit down. Moot Court competitors learn to know their arguments in anticipation of being questioned by judges as they present the arguments. They also learn to make cohesive legal arguments on the spot and they learn how to listen to the judges and gage which way they are leaning. A universal goal of moot court participants is to learn to present arguments as a conversation while asking the court to rule in your favor by speaking in a manner that is convincing. It is more than reciting tenets of law, it is using your knowledge of the law to advocate for the position of your client. You are arguing that the law should or should not be changed.

Team Cohesion

WSU Moot Court Team

Wayne State Law’s moot court team.

Participants learn how to operate as one voice even though they may focus on different aspects of the particular legal position. As a team member, you will learn lessons that are essential for general legal practice. For example, listening attentively and examining the various points of view of legal arguments will be second nature. To be a better advocate you must be aware of the weaknesses in your own argument while identifying the weaknesses in your partner’s arguments to effectively put forward the position needed. In regular appellate practice there may not be two or three persons making an argument so learning how to understand the full argument is of great importance.

Real World Experience

As a practicing attorney, who is in court weekly, I often draw upon lessons learned from my moot court experience. I make arguments in front of judges, which requires a mastery of legal concepts and the ability to apply them to the position that I take for my client as a zealous advocate. Participating in moot court prepared me for the real life experience of making arguments on the spot and catering to the particular leanings of judges by tailoring my arguments to them. You will come away from moot court prepared to do the same.

Networking Opportunities

Finally, participating in moot court allows you to come in contact with many practicing attorneys and judges who get to see first hand your potential as an advocate. I had the opportunity to meet many practitioners and I know of participants who have had job offers resulting directly from their oral arguments in moot court.

You may not necessarily want to be a litigator and you may never have a desire to argue before the Supreme Court, but moot court is an invaluable experience and will most certainly prepare you for many of the real world experiences of being an attorney.

 

SIANA J. MCLEAN, ESQ. practices in the area of immigration law and regularly appears before the Executive Office of Immigration Review and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

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