Guidelines for Conducting a Moot Court
A moot court is patterned after an appeals court or Supreme Court hearing. The court, composed of a panel of judges, is asked to rule on a lower court's decision. No witnesses are called, nor are the basic facts in a case disputed. Arguments are prepared and presented on the application of a law, the constitutionality of a law, or the fairness of previous court procedures. In many ways the moot court is like a debate, for each side presents arguments for the judges' consideration. Moot court hearings may help participants develop a greater understanding of the appellate level of our legal system and of the subject being debated.
How to Proceed
- Select a case (actual or hypothetical), or assist participants in selecting a case to appeal that raises questions relevant to the concept being studied. Prepare a "Fact Situation" which includes a summary of essential evidence from the trial and the court decision to be appealed. (Attorneys may be helpful in selection of an appropriate case and writing the "Fact Situation.")
- Divide the class into groups of 6-8 participants; divide each group into 3-4 member litigant teams. One team is designated as the "appealing litigant team" and will have the responsi bility of arguing against the ruling of a lower court. The other team is designated as the "supporting litigant team" and will present arguments in favor of the lower court's decision. (If possible, each litigant team should be assigned an attorney as a resource person. However, attorneys should not participate in the oral arguments before the court.)
- Each participant should be given a copy of the "Instructions for Moot Court Hearings" which follows, and the "Fact Situation."
- Time should be provided for the preparation of oral arguments. Each litigant team should choose at least two people to present their team's arguments before the court.
- If attorneys have served as resource persons during the preparation period, assign them to 3-member judicial panels to preside over the hearings. If possible, teams should present their arguments before attorneys who did not serve their team as resource persons. If not enough attorneys or no attorneys are available, the program staff may serve as judges.
Principal Responsibilities of the Program Staff and Attorneys
- To make certain that the case selected for the moot court is relevant to the concept being studied.
- To assist with the coordination and support activities necessary to implement a moot court, specifically:
a. procure a sufficient number of attorneys to serve as resource persons and judges
b. make arrangements to use actual courtrooms, if desired
c. make litigant team and judge assignments
d. determine appropriate time limits for each segment of the moot court.
- To make certain that participants are familiar with moot court procedures and their roles.
- To assist participants in developing their arguments when help is needed.
- To conduct a moot court.
- To conduct the discussion session following the hearing.
Instructions for Moot Court Hearings
- Participants should consider all of the details presented in the "Fact Situation" to have been established in a trial court. Teams may not argue that any of those facts are inaccurate.
- Arguments do not need to be confined to existing legal precedents or recognized legal theories. Any argument thought to be persuasive from a philosophical, theoretical, conceptual or practical standpoint can be made. Teams may rely on principles founded on the United States Constitution.
- Each litigant team should be prepared to present its oral argument to a panel of judges. At least two members of each litigant team should present the team's oral arguments before the 3-member court of appeals. Teams may have as many spokespersons as they wish. The "appealing litigant teams" present their argument first, followed by the "supporting litigant teams" presentation.
- Teams should anticipate active questioning from the judges during oral presentations. Spokespersons representing each litigant team are expected to respond immediately to questions and concerns raised by the judges. Discussions with the judges in this manner will not extend the team's time unless the court exercises its discretion to permit an extension of time for the team's scheduled presentation.
- Litigant teams' oral arguments are limited .to a specific amount of time. The court has the discretion to grant extra time, but should not normally exercise this privilege. Any extensions of the time should be for a stated number of minutes. Teams may reserve a part of their total argument time for rebuttal argument. Rebuttal time need not be reserved. If time is reserved, it should be used to counter opponent's arguments, not to raise new issues. A member of the opposing team should serve as the presenting team's time advisor during the arguments. The following intervals showing the number of minutes left may be used by the time advisor: 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1/2. Time advisors should hold up cards for the team's attention and for the court to see. If arguments have not been completed, spokespersons are nevertheless to terminate their presentation precisely upon expiration of the allotted time, unless the presiding judge grants an extension of time.
- After the arguments for both the "appealing litigant" and "supporting litigant" teams have been heard by the court, the panel of judges should deliberate and reach a decision. Deliberation of the case may take place in private or may be conducted before the class. A time limit for these deliberations will probably be required.
- After the decisions have been announced, class participants and attorneys should discuss the various decisions of the court, the issues raised, and moot court procedures.