Assessment Group/Syndicate Work Interim Assessment Oral argument

Surviving (and Acing) the Constitutional Law Moot

Finished your research for the Constitutional Law moot? Wondering how you’re going to remember everything, organise your notes and speak to the ‘judge’ as though you actually know what you’re talking about? Even for students with previous mooting experience, the Consti moot can be pretty intimidating. Luckily there are plenty of things you can do now to make those 10 minutes less stressful–and maybe even fun.

Check out the advice below for tips on structuring your presentation, creating super accessible notes, and delivering a confident and convincing oral submission.

May it please the court, today I will be…um…

Your opening statement is not only your first and best opportunity to make a strong impression on the judge, it’s also one of the few parts of the moot that you can a) prepare for in advance, and b) expect to keep control over before open season (i.e. question time) begins.

So how do you structure an opening? By now you’ve probably repressed the memory of your Torts research essay, but think back to all the advice you were given about writing a good essay introduction. Introductions are meant to flag for the reader your overall contention and all the sub-arguments you’re planning to make throughout the essay. The same goes for an effective opening statement: create a roadmap for the judge.

Check out the video above for general advice about moot structure, including an example of an oral ‘roadmap’.

In short, by signposting your main arguments in your opening statement, you will be:

  • Helping the judge understand the overall structure of your oral submission
  • Helping the judge follow the logical flow of your arguments
  • Demonstrating your advance planning and preparation
  • Demonstrating your ability to distill and organise key points and arguments from a vast sea of information (i.e. your case research)

Hang on, I think I’ve got that in here somewhere…

Moots differ from regular oral presentations in that you can’t rely on a pre-written speech and expect to do well. That’s because the moot isn’t a speech, it’s a conversation. It’s a conversation you can prepare for, but one you can’t predict the sequence of. (Just because you’ve outlined your arguments for the judge in your opening statement doesn’t mean the judge will ask questions in the same order–though you can live in hope.)

That doesn’t mean you can’t rely on notes at all. On the contrary, creating a set of brief, well-organised notes that you can access at a glance is a major ingredient of a successful moot. Check out this video on utilising the ‘folder method’ for you moot.

Capture

By organising your notes in a non-linear way (whether that’s by using the folder method or another style like a mindmap or cue cards), you will ensure you don’t spend your entire moot reading from the page. You will also have the flexibility to jump around to different arguments and authorities instantly, no matter which question the judge fires at you next.

Yes, making good notes is time-consuming. Making brief notes takes even longer. But as you know by now, making your own notes is the best way to remember and understand the material you’re being assessed on. When it comes to making notes, the process is just as important as the end product.

Please Explain?

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Answering your teacher’s questions is one of the most nerve-wracking components of the moot, not least because you’ll never be able to predict exactly what they’ll ask you. Keeping the following points in mind as you prepare, though, will help you meet each query head on.

  •  You may not be able to predict every question, but you’ll probably be able to predict some. As you’re researching and formulating your arguments, try and think about some of the obvious counterarguments and weaknesses of your position. If the judge zeroes in on one of these in their questions, what will you say? Having a confident and reasoned rebuttal prepared to a likely question or two will do wonders for your nerves–and your mark.
  • Keep your ears open. Some questions are designed to test you, whether on a point of law or just on your mettle. (One of the assessment criteria is the ability to return to your argument after a question. Don’t get thrown off!) Other questions, though, will be the judge’s attempt to help you. Sure, they may be wearing an invisible robe during the moot, but the ‘judge’ is still your teacher–they’re in that seat because they care about your learning. So keep an open mind and try to see each question for what it really is.
  • A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Another assessment criterion is your ability to respond ‘directly and effectively’ to questions. Don’t treat the Q&A part of the moot as an audition for political candidacy; your teacher will see right through your attempts to distract and prevaricate. Try and answer every question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, and then expand on that simple response based on your research, arguments or notes.
  • Don’t be cheeky. Never argue with the judge, interrupt them, talk over them or say anything along the lines of, “I already said that” or “That’s not relevant to my topic”. Be professional. Be respectful. ‘Court etiquette’ is an important part of mooting style, but so is etiquette-etiquette.

Be Prepared to Run Out of Time

There is a 99.999999% chance you won’t have time to say everything you planned to say during your ten minutes in the limelight. This means you need to decide in advance (i.e. now) which arguments you absolutely need to make, and which arguments can be ‘dropped’. Ask yourself:

  • Which points must I make?
  • Which points do I want to make?
  • Which points do I hope to make, in a best case scenario?

Going through this decision-making process now means you’re much less likely to leave the room kicking yourself because you didn’t get a chance to raise the argument that you’re convinced will make or break your moot.

You should also consider memorising a 2-3 line summary of each of your arguments and a short concluding summary of your overall argument so that–even if you only have 30 seconds left–you can make your point concisely (yet comprehensively) in whatever time remains.

Do Your Best–But Remember, You’re Not Taking Silk

…I made three arguments of every case. First, came the one that I planned as I thought – logical, coherent, complete. Second was the one actually presented – interrupted, incoherent, disjointed, disappointing. The third was the utterly devastating argument that I thought of after going to bed that night.

-Justice Robert H. Jackson, U.S.S.Ct

The good news is your teacher isn’t expecting you to roll out of bed on the day of your moot as a topflight QC ready to petition the High Court. In fact, if you watch some videos of real life advocates in action before the highest court in the land, you’ll realise that no oral submission can ever reach TV-levels of flawless delivery. So put Alicia Florrick and Harvey Specter out of your mind and focus on the positive, proactive steps you can take now to mentally prepare for your moot, whether that’s practising with your mooting partner or alleviating pre-speech nerves.

Break a leg!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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