Note: The 60th Annual Wendell F. Grimes Moot Court Competition Finals will be held at BC Law on Wednesday, March 11 at 4:00 pm in East Wing Room 120.
Television shows like Judge Judy prepare every person in the English-speaking world for what could possibly go on at a mock trial competition: there are opening statements, directs, crosses, redirects, closing arguments, and certainly tons of objections and shocking witness impeachments. These are all aimed at typically convincing a jury that your side has better evidence to prove your point, or in the alternative, that the other side simply lacks sufficient evidence to prove theirs.
While this is, I am sure, one of the many cool things about grade school, college, and yes indeed law school, I have found mock trial’s lesser known appellate sibling to be much more entertaining.
Picture this: you, your moot court partner, your opposing counsel and their partner, a panel of typically three judges (often actual judges and high powered successful attorneys), and a fascinating point of law. Your job in a fifteen minute span is to engage in an eloquent and respectful conversation with the judges about the issue at hand. Opposing counsel cannot object to your argument. In fact, the only people who can interrupt you at all are the judges who, if you’re lucky, are peppering you with questions about holes in your arguments and points raised by your opposing counsel. Or they’re asking you about circuit courts that disagree with your theory of the case. Because there’s no jury for whom you must translate the law into something a lay (read normal) person can understand, you just have a bunch of highly intelligent, legally trained people discussing the nuances of our legal system. It’s a total nerd party!
Moot court (unlike anything you would see on Law and Order, which specializes in trial drama) is mock appellate advocacy. It entails writing a lengthy appellate brief where the confines of your case have already been firmed up at the trial level, evidence has been proffered, and an initial ruling has been made by the trial court. Without a jury to convince about your version of facts, you play with the law in a different way, diligently persuading the court based on your research that the court should rule in your way. Courts of appeal address the law and not facts. This is sometimes as applied specifically to the petitioner in the problem you are given but can also be a facial challenge to a law that the petitioner might view as unconstitutionally void for vagueness or in violation of an otherwise protected constitutional right.
These concepts might seem confusing if you haven’t sat through Constitutional Law or worked as a litigator, but it’s important to know that while most people in my experience haven’t heard of moot court, it is an integral part of some students’ law school experiences. Moot court done right can get you in the room to interview for judicial clerkships and other long-term jobs after you graduate. This is because moot court requires serious legal and critical thinking skills. You have to be able to read an approximately 40 page record from a fictional lower court, assess the issues, conduct legal research, and persuasively write your arguments with your partner. After that monster amount of work is complete, you argue those same issues, or perhaps the opposite side (known as “off brief”) in front of judges whose general focus is to prod at the weakest spots in your case to see how strong your argument actually is. This requires public speaking skills, an ability to think on your feet, and a deep intimacy with both the best and worst parts of your case.
All of these facets make moot court a thrilling and academically rigorous experience for the nerdy legal minds of the world. It can create lasting friendships and professional networks you otherwise wouldn’t have. It makes you a better writer, legal researcher, public speaker, and deadline manager. Or at least that is what it did for me. BC Law hosts the Wendell F Grimes Moot Court Competition every year for 2Ls at BC. It’s worth trying out the experience if for no other reason than to see if you like it, but it’s also writing and public speaking practice in a serious but risk free setting. Who knows? You might discover that you too are counted among the legal nerds who enjoy sitting at dinner parties debating circuit splits, and in the event that you do, our community welcomes you with open arms.
Tatiana-Rose Becker is a second-year student who was a semi finalist in the 2020 Grimes competition and received a top brief award. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.