Last time, Hope Turner (2019 Moot Court Champ) broke down some fantastic tips for Moot Court. Today, she will dig deeper in the world of Moot…
So how do you go about reading the cases?
- Learn how to read cases.
Court cases are not exactly light reading. There are a lot of numbers and letters that don’t make sense. Practice makes perfect – just read. You’ll figure out how to become more efficient as you go. Also, a lot of the numbers and letters after sentences are citations. If the court is commenting on a past case or using a statistic, they cite it afterwards. Reading the citation is helpful to know what case they are talking about and in what year, but you can typically skip over the other parts of the citation. To the extent that the court talks about it, you can use that other case or statistic in your argument (but ONLY to the extent it is used in the case, and make sure you reference the case in which it is cited).
- Let it read out to you the first time
Don’t start out looking for ways the case can help one side or the other. Just read it. Get a general understanding of the case. Then…
- Look for the supporting points
The next few times you read it, look for similarities and differences between your case and this case. Ask how it helps the Petitioner. Look for quotes, rationale, and other ways that the case can support the Petitioner and undermine the Respondent. Then do the same for the other side.
- Make briefs and cheat sheets
Once you’ve read the cases, make briefs on them. “Briefs” are how you put the case in your own words. Summarize. Record your observations. The more detailed, the better, but you want to squeeze the juice out of the case. What are the most important points to remember? My favorite format is this: Facts, Procedural History (what happened at the lower courts), Issue (the question to be answered), Ruling (the answer, typically a yes/no), Reasoning/Rationale (why they said what they said), and Quotes.
Next, make a cheat sheet. This is your at-a-glance reminder of each case. You want this to be as short as possible, preferably one page. I structured mine in a table of case name and date, most important facts (in one or two sentences), and rule + reasoning for it. Some people also add whether it helps the Petitioner or Respondent. I did that at first, but then took it away because I realized that most cases can help both sides.
Practice, practice, practice
Get in front of a real live person (I know, scary) and practice your arguments in front of them. Let them ask you questions. Give your best answer. Afterwards, ask them if your answers felt satisfying. Did you really answer the question well? Ask them what they were confused about. It’s ok if they don’t have legal or moot court experience. You want your arguments to make sense logically, not just legally.
One last big tip: Moot court is not debate. It is not a speech. It is a conversation with a Supreme Court Justice: someone a lot smarter than you, who knows a lot more about the law than you, and with whom rests the final decision. If they interrupt mid-word to ask a question, stop talking. Listen. Take their question seriously. Answer it to the best of your ability. Try to use that answer to get back to your argument, but don’t be afraid of going off of your pre-scripted outline. If the judges are interested in your second point, make it your first point and get back to your original point later. Be flexible.
Moot court is hard. It is scary. But it is worth it. It will sharpen your reasoning skills and enhance your speaking skills. You get out of it what you put into it. Invest in moot court, and you will reap an amazing return on your time and effort. You got this, counsel.