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What are Moot Court Competitions?

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  • Written By: Terry Masters
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Moot court competitions are experiential learning activities that are used by law schools around the world to introduce students to the practice of law at the appellate level. The competitions simulate a contested court case that is being heard by an appeals court. Two teams of students argue opposite sides of the case in front of a panel that rules in favor of the winning legal argument, awarding the competition to that side.

Law schools will typically sponsor a yearly school-based competition and sometimes field a moot court team that competes against other schools in national and international competitions. Moot court competitions, along with the publication of the school’s law journal, are part of a traditional law school experience that transcends legal systems and national boundaries. It would be unusual to find a law school that did not have some type of moot court activity available to students that wished to participate.

The distinguishing feature of moot court is its structure around a case on appeal. Students in the competition do not hear testimony or introduce evidence. The case used for the competition is based on the record of a lower court trial. Each team would be responsible for arguing a side of a legal issue that is appropriate for appeal and applying the law to the facts established at trial. This is in comparison to a mock trial competition, which is actually a simulated jury trial where witnesses and evidence would be introduced.

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As an appellate exercise, every country’s law schools will have a moot court format that is particular to the way that country’s court system works. In the U.K., for example, the exact format of moot court competitions in Scotland differ from those in England and Wales because the court systems are different. Moot court competitions will typically require a written brief to be submitted by both teams and oral arguments to be presented in front of a panel of judges in support of the brief. The procedure surrounding the progress of oral arguments is the part of the competition that differs the most from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Although traditionally a law school activity, moot court competitions have become popular with students at the university level. There are now intercollegiate moot court teams that compete nationally and internationally. Moot court has joined speech and debate, as well as mock trial, as an expanding part of many universities' forensics programs.

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Soulfox
Post 2

@Vincenzo -- I agree with you, but don't discount the effectiveness of a moot court. Students can learn a lot by researching case law and framing arguments so they can win. Whether in front of a jury or not, all attorneys have to learn how to research well and apply the law to their fact patterns.

Vincenzo
Post 1

These can be very useful as they do allow law students the chance to learn appellate process effectively. You can read about appeals work for years, but there is nothing like an exercise that makes students put that learning into practice.

Still, mock trials are a lot more useful. Most attorneys will never deal with an appellate matter (there are attorneys who specialize in appellate work and there is a reason for that) but most practicing attorneys will have to go through a trial.

A mock trial, then, forces students to learn those skills they will use most often. The best ones of those have juries made up of the general public that can give feedback on how the attorneys did and get law students used to arguing cases before people who have no legal background.

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