This was originally published in A First Taste of Law. Now we are republishing the best posts from the blog, which we have now shut down, to this blog. Hope you enjoy it!
The first moot I ever went for was one in Kochi. We were a team of 2nd years, had no clue about how to handle bad judges, and succumbed to that great weakness. Wherever you are mooting, India or some other country – you must be strategically prepared for bad judges. Its easy to spot them – ones that never read the problem until 5 minutes before the court, someone who is a stud at the local bar but has not clue about international law, doesn’t seem to understand English or is visibly suffering from a hangover.
Anyway, I am writing this post to share some conclusions I reached about mooting since I participated in my 2nd moot, this time as a part of my university team – Willem C. Vis East in Hong Kong. While we did not do too well in the moot (only thing we can mention as success is that we got an honorable mention for our Respondent memo with 9 other teams. Also, we were the only Indian team to have received anything from that moot at all), it was an extraordinary learning experience as far as mooting follies are concerned. All the points below generally apply to mooting anywhere but are gospel truth as far as Vis moots are concerned. I am so sure because these points arose not only from my personal experience but were reiterated by coaches, arbitrators, and winners again and again as I tried to figure out what is all the fuss about mooting.
First lesson, you don’t only need good/competent people on your team, you need a team with which you can work. In the mooting systems where you don’t get to choose your teammates but they are more or less decided due to ranks in internal selections, this can be a huge issue. Look out. I have asked around a bit, and it seems a lot of people can’t achieve their potential because of this one reason.
The second lesson, you must figure out what the moot asks of you. Much of it depends on who are the judges. Are the judges in the moot predominantly academicians, professors, veteran lawyers, and judges, or young Turks with some mooting experience? Does the moot brief the judges on what are the parameters on which speakers are to be judged? Obviously it will difficult to find out the details of the current year, and you must rely on the information you have of the previous years events to develop an idea about the event in which you are going to participate.
Vis east was completely about presentation skills. Legal knowledge is more or less presumed. In fact, George Varghese, the researcher in out team who have extensive debating experience thought that the moot is more or less like a policy debate, albeit judged by lawyers and the subject matter of debate being legal.
Details will vary greatly from moot to moot, but primarily, you can appeal in the different way to different sort of judges. If he’s a practicing lawyer or arbitrator, he will have different criteria on his mind when he listens to your arguments. He will pay a lot more details to your presentation skills and formal expressions. If there’s a professor on the board, she might be looking for something else. She might be happier if you draw support from a theory that she admires. Some, you can apprehend and prepare for, and some of this will have to be done on feet.
The third lesson, play the public interest card. Works in moots like magic. I have never done it, but seen people do it. No matter whether it is arbitration or WTO panel moot, everyone loves a mooter who is able to establish that the public interest is on her side. While public interest may be difficult to side with in a real case if hands of the judge are tied by law, but in a moot, there is no such constraint that prevent judges from giving the court to you.
The fourth lesson, prepare a speech and time it. You must know how much time you are going to spend on which argument. This does not matter much if competition you are facing is not strong. But when it is, time management is a crucial skill that is going to make a lot of difference. I would never again go to a moot without preparing a speech, and having every argument timed to seconds.
The fifth lesson, you must be able to show a structure in your arguments, that also helps the judges in following what you are saying. In a real case, this may not be so important, but in a moot court you are definitely going to pick up some points for it.
The last point, one must know how to answer questions. Questions must be answered precisely without circumlocution or distraction. Everyone hates to be handled. Don’t tiptoe around the question, even if you succeed to do so without an objection from the bench, the judge will hate you for it. Or worse, he will think that you are so thick you didn’t even get the question.