The Ultimate Guide to Mooting for Law Students – How to Moot Effectively

by Legal Author on September 26, 2015

how-to-moot-adviceThis ultimate guide to mooting provides essential advice & tips on how to moot. Brought to you by former mooting veterans Graham Kerr, Mark McAuley, David Kerr and Gavin Ward.

And see also our Editor’s new blog post: Who are five of the richest lawyers in the world? + Lawyer Salary FAQs (UK/US Edition)

Public speaking is an important skill, especially in today’s world. Throughout your time at university there is the constant lingering menace of having to do a presentation or to present information in a seminar. Even those who do not choose to pursue a career in litigation will need some aspect of the skills involved in public speaking, even if only to get one’s point across in a meeting. Most people approach these, and other public speaking tasks, with no little trepidation. To that end mooting while at university is invaluable. Mooting provides us with a platform to practice and hone these skills in a (masochistically!) enjoyable environment.

In mooting the crucial skill is to get ones point across persuasively, concisely and in an understandable way (often you will be more practiced than the judge in a particular aspect of law). With practice the quirks and foibles of our presentation skill – the squeaky voice, the “riddie” and the “errs”, “umms” and “ahs” – can be lost and, once they are, you will find that a much better, more confident speaker emerges.

Top Mooting Tips, Advice & Resources in the UK

For essential reading about mooting, please see the following expert information guides. They are written using mainly Scottish legal terminology, although many of the tips below will help those mooting in other parts of the UK:-

What is a Moot?

A Moot is a form of legal debate that takes place in front of a judge (and usually an audience) on a particular point of law.  The moot generally centres on a fictitious appeal in a civil or criminal case and, as such, there are usually pre-specified grounds on which the debate should take place.

There are two teams in a moot (Appellant and Respondent), and counsel for each consists of both Junior and Senior counsel.  Although there can be variation on the rules of a moot, it is generally the case that Junior Counsel gets to speak for 10 minutes and Senior Counsel gets 15 minutes in which to persuade the judge as to the merits of his/her argument.  There are usually rules in relation to the number of legal authorities that may be cited in support of your submissions (this is usually capped at 8 authorities however this can vary depending on the rules of the competition).

After the Judge has heard submissions from both the Appellant and the Respondent he will “retire” (often referred to as taking the case ad avizandum) to consider the merits of each side’s arguments, and will return to deliver his verdict after a short interlude.

This decision consists of two parts, namely a decision based on who “won on the law” i.e. who presented the strongest case in terms of legal reasoning and analysis; and, more importantly, who won based on style.  The importance of this later decision is key as it is this that determines which team will progress to the next round of the competition.

moot-court-how-to-moot What a moot court looks like (note the names of the sides will differ depending on type of case being heard)

The Importance of Mooting

With the employment market being the way it is you will inevitably find that it is becoming increasingly important to bolster your C.V. and make yourself more attractive to potential employers.

There also comes a point in your academic career when you need to start thinking about how you are going to deal with the transition from the world of academia to the world of professional practice.

Your participation in mooting competitions will tick both of these boxes.

Further to this, the importance of mooting to your academic career cannot be overstated.

Those who have taken part in mooting competitions, whether it be the university in-house competition or a national competition, have overwhelmingly stated that they have developed skills they never thought they had, or developed skills they never felt they needed.

You will also start to develop the skills that any lawyer should hope to have, whether that be research skills, advocacy skills or even just plain old teamwork skills.  If you harbour any desire to become a practicing solicitor then it is safe to say that employers can only look favourably on those who have mooting on their C.Vs, as this is a sure-fire sign that you possess these important attributes.

The more that you participate in mooting competitions, the more it shows employers that you have the skills to work under pressure to meet deadlines, that you have polished your presentation and communication skills, that you have sound research and reasoning skills and that you have a determination and drive to improve and achieve.

Rules / Format of a Moot

Each competition will have its own rules to be adhered to. Aspects that will usually vary by competition and jurisdiction are the following:

      • Number of Sources allowed
        • Usually 8 but may be more
      • Time deducted or added for judges questions
      • Penalties for using more than allotted time
      • Production of bundles
        • It is always good practice to prepare a good bundle of authorities for both the judge and your opponents
      • Rules for rebuttal

What won’t change in most UK moots are the following:

        • Order of submissions:
          • Junior Counsel for the Appellants / Pursuer
          • Junior Counsel for the Defender / Respondent
          • Senior Counsel for the Appellants / Pursuer
          • Senior Counsel for the Defender / Respondent
        • Time for submissions:
          • Junior Counsel has 10 minutes
          • Senior Counsel has 15 minutes
        • Dress code:
          • Appropriate business dress.
        • The Moot shall solely be concerned with a point, or points of law

The presiding judge will give two decisions and often these will be to different teams. They will decide who won on the legal question debated and they will also give the decision on who won the moot itself. As we know to win a moot is more about the Art of Advocacy and a judge will usually look at the following for their decision:

        • Ability in the art of advocacy
        • Knowledge of the substantive issues raised
        • Overall presentation
        • Teamwork

The rules used in the GCU Law Society in house competition are below:

  1. Each team shall consist of two speakers, a Senior and a Junior.

1.1.  The order of speakers will normally be as follows:-

1.1.1.     Junior Counsel for the pursuer/appellant

1.1.2.     Junior Counsel for the defender/respondent

1.1.3.     Senior Counsel for the pursuer/appellant

1.1.4.     Senior Counsel for the defender/respondent

Senior Counsel will be allowed to speak for fifteen minutes and Junior Counsel for ten minutes. The Clerk of Court will inform speakers when they have two minutes and one minute of time remaining and when they are out of time.

2.1.  Counsel will be penalised for going over their allocated time.

The Judge may interrupt a speaker to ask questions. This time will normally be included within the time allocations of the speaker but it may be within the Judge’s discretion to allow a speaker who has been subject to lengthy interruptions allowance for this.

3.1.  The Clerk should keep a note of how much time a speaker has had to spend addressing the bench on points raised by the bench, by way of interruption, to his or her prepared submissions, and then provide this information to the Judge along with a note of the overall duration of each counsel’s submissions.

The moot shall be solely concerned with a point or points of law.

The moot may take the form of an appeal or a debate at first instance.

The Presiding Judge shall:

6.1.  Adjudicate on the points of law argued by Counsel.

6.2.  Indicate the winning team for the purposes of the moot having regard principally to:

6.2.1.     Ability in the art of advocacy

6.2.2.     Knowledge of the substantive issues raised

6.2.3.     Overall presentation

*AND, in addition should also take account of:*

6.2.4.     Teamwork

6.2.5.     Adherence to competition time limits

6.3.  The Judge will, in giving his decision, declare who won:

6.3.1.     On the point(s) of law discussed

6.3.2.     The overall winner of the moot

Lists of authorities to be cited by each team shall be exchanged no later than noon on the day preceding the moot by e-mail AND leaving a hard copy of the list of authorities in the law office for both the Judge and the opposing team.

7.1.  Teams shall be limited to using a maximum of eight sources in total.

7.2.  Citation of any textbooks must state the specific chapter(s) being used.

A bench copy (in the form of a photocopy or print-out) of all authorities cited must be produced by the team citing them in the moot otherwise citation will be inadmissible.

How to Succeed in Your Moot

How to break the deadlock – The ‘away goals’ rule in mooting.

In football, there is something known as “the away goals rule.” Basically, this rule exists to break the deadlock. If teams are level at the end of a tie, the away goals rule comes into play and more weight is accorded to goals scored away from home.

In football – so as in mooting. There are factors which you can emphasise to swing things your way in the event of a tie.

A good moot is an even moot – one in which the points of law are evenly balanced. It’s not often that one side holds all the legal aces. If you have a killer legal point, chances are that the other side does too. These might just cancel each other out. What you have to do is give the judge another compelling reason why you win the moot.

Very often, you will be mooting against people at the same stage as you. You will have the same depth of knowledge; the same level presentation skills and have the same amount of experience. The authors have lost count of the number of times a judge has said “it was a very, very, very close thing” or “I had some difficulty deciding” or some such.

These aren’t merely platitudes. A judge is required to process difficult legal information, which they are probably hearing for the first time, while assessing all sorts of other concerns which have a bearing on the outcome of the moot.

If you tighten up all the aspects of your performance over which you have most control: your dress; your bundle (pagination, tabs, use of dividers, correct printouts/photocopies etc); the language you use and so on, then  one of these factors may just swing the judge’s decision in your favour. The purpose of this article is to remind you to make it easier for him or her.

We emphasis the benefits of preparation elsewhere on this site, but you should also take care to prepare yourself and your materials, as well as your knowledge of the law.

At the end of the moot the judge will be left with a mental picture of you as an individual mooter and you and your partner as a team. Make sure it’s a good one by:

  • Dressing appropriately – smart, formal clothes and neat presentation.
  • Having all your materials to hand. As well as wasting valuable seconds, it’s off-putting for a judge to have to watch you flounder through a sea of papers.
  • Demonstrating teamwork. While I personally wouldn’t recommend stopping to consult with your partner mid-moot, a system of written notes and whispered conversation while the judge finds a particular citation not only gives you an opportunity to confer, it demonstrates to your judge you are a team. In some competitions, ‘teamwork’ is actually part of the scoring.
  • Correct use of language. It is said that we only retain around 7% of what we hear. The rest of the information we take in is through body language, tone and other cues. Use the correct language, a formal tone and an interesting, lively form of delivery (as opposed to a monotone) and you might be able to cure any defects that exist in your case.
  • Stick to your time. This is often the hardest part. It can be tempting to run on to get your point across (which is why you put your best point first) or to stop mid-sentence when the clerk indicates time. Try to gauge your time so you can finish on a point rather than in the middle of one.

In short, the best legal argument can be undone by being slipshod in other aspects of your presentation. And, you might just beat a stronger argument if you are well-dressed, engaging, organised and keep to time.

How NOT to moot.

In Plato’s ”The Republic’, Socrates opines that he is delighted to learn from old men:

“Since they have passed along a road which we too perhaps will have to follow, I think we ought to discover what it is like, whether it is rough and hard, or easy and smooth.”

Well, since you are reading this, I’ll assume that you intend to follow my co-authors and I down the road of mooting and legal debating.  This article is intended to point out some of the rougher parts of this particular road in order that you avoid falling into the same potholes we did (or at least that we watched others fall into!).

Don’t give in.

It is unfortunate that for lack of time and resources, most moot tournaments are run on a knockout basis. This means that if you are knocked out early, your opportunities to moot might be limited.

Don’t be disheartened. Take the opportunity to go and watch your colleagues moot. Learn from them. Watch them and give them feedback and ask them to do likewise. The practice of law is a collegiate business. Start exchanging thoughts, tips and ideas early.

A theme to which this blog will return, time and again, is Practice. Practice, practice, practice. The book Bounce, by Matthew Syed, extols the virtue of practice over talent. You will only become competent by doing, and you will only become great by doing repeatedly.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, keep reading this blog and have another go.

Avoid the Road to Nowhere.

Occasionally, during your submissions, you will go off-piste. Public speaking muddles the mind like nothing else on earth. The important thing is not to start rambling. If you feel yourself venturing into uncharted territory the Judge will know and your opponents will know.

It’s far better to stop, pause, compose yourself, look at your notes and go back to a coherent point. Pausing for composure is the lesser of two evils in this case.

Some Judges will positively  delight in leading you off the path. It’s important to stick closely to your main  (and hopefully coherent) points. Your humble correspondents have witnessed some arguments that make the Chewbacca defence look Darrow-esque. Among these were an attempt to break the chain of causation using the Titanic (no, nor us) and some quite open flirting with the Judge.

Mind your P’s and Q’s.

More specifically, mind your terminology. Don’t turn the words Skeleton, Respondent and Appellant into the portmanteau “Skelement”.

Don’t call the Judge “You”. Having studied for years, worked for longer, rising to a sufficient academic or Practice rank to be entrusted with adjudicating on a point of law in furtherance of your education, mostly without the electronic aids upon which you rely daily, he or she is entitled to be called “My Lord” or “My Lady” (or the equivalent in your Jurisdiction, international readers).

Similarly, they might trash your argument, launch ad hominem attacks, spout irrelevant drivel or fail to turn up, but your opponents are always your ‘learned friends’. They are never ‘they’.

Always Turn Up.

We’ll extol the virtues of preparation elsewhere, but no matter how under-prepared you feel, you should always endeavour to turn up . Your opponents will have invested valuable time, money (in the form of printing costs) and effort in preparing. Do them the honour of appearing.

Failing to turn up and pulling out undermines the competition and wastes the time of your fellow students and the Judge. Be sure you can commit the time before you decide to participate.

These four pointers above are sure to give you a great head-start. More tips to follow throughout this guide. Happy mooting!

Skeleton Arguments

A skeleton argument is simply a document that you are required to produce which details, in general terms, either the argument you wish to advance or, more simply, lists the authority on which you will be seeking to rely.

It is worth bearing in mind that the purpose of the skeleton argument is to give fair notice to the opposing side of the legal authority you will be using in your submissions, so bear this in mind when drafting yours.  While giving such notice may seem unusual given the fact that you are competing against the other team, it is, in fact, commonplace in practice.

In most competitions the general rule is that there must be an exchange of skeleton arguments on the day before the moot takes place.  The rules of your particular competition will give some clarity as to a time and place where this exchange should occur, however it is often at the departmental law office.

Examples of various styles of skeleton argument and skeleton argument templates to follow.

Sources & Citing

It is important that when you choose your sources that you select the right citation. There can be many reports for a single case and it is very important to know from the outset which are the correct ones to select in a moot. We will also cover the different types of sources you can use and put them in order of preference.

In a moot the following sources may be used:

  • Legislation

National and International, (if applicable to your argument)

  • Case Law

If you can find a case or cases to support your argument, use them. However, beware of any changes if it is an older case and always make sure you check for dissenting opinions.

  • Textbooks

You should try to avoid these but the institutional writers and the practitioner textbooks are allowable.

  • Journals

There have been some discourse on the allowability and the standing of these documents as they are a commentary on the law and not binding on the court. This should be avoided, but they are a very valuable tool in finding the correct authority.

Citing Legislation

When citing a piece of legislation make sure you do it in full and show the relevant sections you wish to use in your submissions, eg.

      • The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 ss.1(1), 5(a)

Citing Cases

When citing a case make sure you select the highest ranking citation. For UK Law this is the order of importance with which you should follow:

You should also be fully aware of which court the case was heard in. This is for two reasons:

    1. This will affect on how you will refer to ratio in your submissions (see below)
    2. Depending on the court you are supposed to be mooting in will mean some authority may or may not be binding.

Textbook Citation

If you are using a Textbook in your submissions make sure you cite it fully and again show clearly which sections you will be looking to for guidance:

  • J. M. Thomson (ed.), Delict (Scottish Universities Law Institute, 2007), paras 21.10, 21.11, 21.13, 21.17, 21.21

Mooting Competitions

The following are some of the main national and international mooting competitions (and for more information on any of these please click the links or see MootingNet here):-

National mooting competitions in the UK

International mooting competitions

Scottish Mooting Competitions and Mooting Bodies

The following are the main In-House Mooting Competitions at the main Scottish University Schools of Law.

University of Aberdeen  

University of Abertay

Dundee University

University of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Napier University

University of Glasgow

Glasgow Caledonian University

Robert Gordon University

Stirling University

Strathclyde University

Language to Use in a Moot

Mind your language!

The more that you moot the quicker a lot of the following tips will become second nature to you.  However, as a starting point, here are some fundamentals on how you should refer to those present in the moot court:

The Judge

Should be referred to as “My Lord” or “My Lady” when addressing him/her directly.  If addressing the Judge indirectly it should be “his Lordship” or “her Ladyship”.  It is always good practice to check how the Judge would like to be addressed if the Judge is female as it may be the case that a female judge will still prefer to be referred to as “My Lord”..

Your Moot Partner

You should always refer to you Moot Partner as “My learned Junior” or “My learned Senior”.

Your Opponents

You should, similar to your own moot partner, refer to your opponents as “My learned friend”, “My learned friend opposite”, “My friends opposite, “Junior/Senior counsel for the Appellant/Respondent”, or “My friend, Junior Senior counsel for the Appellant/Respondent”.  These are just some of the phrases you can use.

How To Organise A Great Mooting Final

First of all, congratulations on making it this far with a semblance of sanity.

A great final for your Mooting competition is very important! It is the culmination of all of your hard work and dedication in organising the event. Coupled with the centrepiece of your contestants hard work. Having a great final encourages those who have participated, thinking of participating and other academic staff to work harder, take the plunge or even give up their time to help. Therefore we should consider what makes a good final great.

A good final will be held in a slightly grander room than you use for previous rounds. It will usually be judged by a more senior person in the profession. Either from the world of academia, advocacy or the bench. It all depends on your contacts and the willingness of others to help. It is usually a courtesy to have a dinner or reception for all contestants afterward – as a reward for their hard work and willingness to step up and compete.

A great final is not greatly different, in fact there are just small changes to effect. As with all things the detail is all that separates good from special…

What I would suggest is to book a court to use for your final. We previously hosted finals in the Glasgow’s Sheriff Court and High Court. I myself mooted in the High Court of Glasgow, and it really gives you the drive to succeed and be there for real one day. Show the carrot to all from the outset. You’ll be amazed at how this can make those unsure take the plunge!

Get a big name judge! It should also be similar to the court being used. We had a Sheriff for the Sheriff court and a Lord for the High Court – it helps make things seem real!

When the judge has given his decision and the winners have been announced, make sure the trophy ceremony and photographs are done well. This will help for publicity next year and you want to instill pride in the winners and a sense of competition to the audience. Lay down the gauntlet… Make a big deal of this, it is no small feat and I know from experience that you need to put many, many, many hours into every moot in order to succeed!

Good luck!

Want to add your own tips or further information to this resource? Please get in touch and all the best, whether it’s for your one and only upcoming moot, for your mooting career or for your long-term legal career – you never know, one day you may have a seat on the bench.

This mooting guide was brought to you by former mooting veterans Graham Kerr, Mark McAuley, David Kerr and Gavin Ward.

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