What is mooting?
A moot court competition simulates a court hearing (usually an appeal against a final decision), in which participants analyse a problem, research the relevant law, prepare written submissions, and present oral argument. Moot problems are typically set in areas of law that are unsettled or that have been subject to recent developments. They usually involve two grounds of appeal, argued by each side.
The procedure imitates that followed in real courts: the judge enters, the mooters and the judge bow to each other, the clerk announces the matter, the mooters give their appearances and are then called on in turn to present their submissions, the judge asks questions of the mooters, the court adjourns, and the judge then returns to deliver a brief judgment and some feedback.
Mooting is not the same as public speaking or debating, although it shares some common elements with these activities. It is a specialised application of the art of persuasive advocacy. It has been part of the process of training lawyers for centuries and plays an important role in legal education at Oxford.
The short video below includes footage taken at the 2009 Shearman & Sterling LLP University of Oxford Moot Competition and features brief interviews with participants, who explain what mooting is and talk about their experiences mooting in Oxford.
(A longer video filmed during the actual competition can be seen on the Shearman & Sterling University of Oxford Moot Competition page.)
There are many reasons to moot. Mooting enables students
(1) to engage with and think deeply about interesting and topical legal issues,
(2) to enhance their advocacy, legal research and writing skills,
(3) to work closely with and learn from their peers
(4) to demonstrate their interest in advocacy and competence as an advocate to prospective employers. Most students find mooting to be intellectually rewarding and highly enjoyable. It can be nerve-racking and frustrating but it is a lot of fun.
Technique: some basic tips
- It is critical to engage with the bench. This requires you to bring many skills together including maintaining eye contact with the judge, speaking at an appropriate volume and pace, responding directly and accurately to questions and holding the judge’s interest. It also incorporates a cardinal rule of mooting: never, ever talk while the judge is talking.
- Remember that it is accepted to ask a judge to repeat a question if you do not understand it, and that it is always best to say 'I regret I am unable to assist your Lordship/Ladyship on that point' when you really do not know the answer.
- Mooting is not just about presenting propositions of law. An important aspect is applying those propositions to the facts in order to argue for the result you want. You should be very familiar with the moot problem and be able to take the judge to relevant paragraphs in it.
- You will often make extensive use of authority in delivering your submissions. You need to know what principle a given case stands for and if a case is binding on the court before which the moot is being argued.
- A critical aspect of mooting is time management. You need to be able to expand or contract your submissions depending on how interventionist the judge is.