One year ago I decided to compete in moot court in NCFCA. The activity was incredibly daunting at first. I had watched plenty of moot court rounds but frankly understood very little of what was going on. People would grip the podium instead of using hand gestures, past court cases were being cited left and right, and legal terminology was constantly used that seemed practically like a foreign language at the time.
Moot court is nothing like other speech & debate events I had competed in. At that point, I had already competed in parliamentary, LD, and TP (in two separate leagues), and too many speech categories to name. However, unlike other speech & debate events, moot court is far more formal. It is meant to be a simulation of a Supreme Court hearing, and thus carries with it the expectations of the formality and traditions of the Supreme Court. Only a small fraction of high school speech & debate competitors ever attempt to compete in moot court, largely due to how steep the learning curve is. I’d like to share the knowledge I accumulated from my time competing in moot court so that you can navigate the event.
Before we dive into this series, I’d like to clarify that I’ve only competed in moot court in NCFCA and this article will speak mainly toward the norms of NCFCA moot court, rather than college leagues.
In NCFCA, the support you can cite in moot court is limited to a “closed universe”. You receive two documents: First, a “facts of the record”, which details the case you’ll be debating and the lower court’s decision. Second, the “packet”, which includes the full text of past court cases that you’ll be able to cite as precedent. Unlike TP and LD, you can’t bring up any research you find online, all support must come from within one of these two documents. While preparing for moot can seem daunting at first, I’d recommend a four-stage approach.
Stage 1. Grasp The Facts
The very first action you have to take is to read through the facts of the record. Doing so will give you the information needed for your brain to start contemplating the case and help you frame the packet into arguments. The facts of the record will provide you with what constitutional issue will be at hand, the details of the case, and the logic and precedent used by the lower court in their decision. Before even opening the packet, read the facts of the record until you know it like the back of your hand.
The facts of the record in the year I competed was only around twenty pages. I’d recommend reading it through at least three times and taking notes throughout. The facts of the record is what makes the case you’ll be debating throughout the year unique. It will provide you with background that’ll be useful in a wide range of questions Justices may ask. Grasp the facts.
Stage 2. Delegate Your Work
In NCFCA, moot court is a team event. Each partner will represent a different constitutional issue. For instance, in 2019, the case regarded a young man named “Johnny Cash”, who was arrested with data from a third-party messaging service and given an indefinite sentence. Thus, both the 4th amendment and 8th amendment were part of the case. One person on the team would represent the 4th amendment and the other would represent the 8th.
The reason that’s important is that if you figure out who is representing which issue early on, your work will effectively be cut in half. While it can be useful to understand both constitutional issues, if you’re cramped for time, you only have to be really familiar with the issue you’re representing. Very few Justices will ask you about your partner’s argumentation. In my year of competition, not a single one did, and I have yet to hear of a competitor who was asked about the issue their partner was representing. In 2019, if you were the 4th amendment speaker, you’d only had to delve deep into the 4th amendment cases. If you were the 8th amendment speaker, your responsibility was the 8th amendment cases.
Additionally, I’d recommend sticking to the same constitutional issue on both sides (petitioner and respondent). In my case, I was the 4th amendment speaker on both petitioner and respondent. That way you’re not having to do double the work. Discuss with your partner which issue each of you will deal with, stick with it, and delegate your work accordingly.
Stage 3. Read the Packet
Now that you’ve comprehended the facts of the record and know which constitutional issue you’re responsible for, begin reading the packet. This is a LARGE document, when I was competing, it was over 1,000 pages. The good news is, since you’ve already delegated your work, you effectively only have to read half of it – the half that regards your constitutional issue.
I have three main tips for reading the packet…
Tip #1. Skim. Read. Read Again.
Due to the density and amount of legal jargon you’ll run into with the moot court packet, it’ll be difficult to grasp the information you need in one read. I’d recommend first skimming the packet, getting a grasp for the facts of each case, their rulings, and logic. Then doing a full, in-depth read-through the packet, and another full read-through after that. By the third time through, you’ll be fully immersed in the content of the packet.
Tip #2. Take Notes
There are a plethora of directions you can take for your argumentation. Take notes about cases and potential arguments you’d use when you read through the packet. To tie this in with the last tip, I had a notebook and pen with me on my second and third read-through the packet.
Tip #3. Don’t Skip Cases
When you first glance at certain cases, you might wonder how in the world some of them apply to the case at bar. Or if they are even worth reading in the first place. Trust me, they are. Every case put in the packet is there for a reason and skipping certain cases will create voids in your knowledge. For instance, even if you don’t think the case is important, the Justice in your round might ask about it. Understanding every case is crucial.
Stage 4. Draft Your Argumentation
Now that you have a firm understanding of the closed universe given to you, it’s time to write up your argumentation. I’d recommend writing bullet-pointed outlines for both sides rather than full scripts. Because Justices will ask questions that’ll require you to transition, having a full script will make it difficult to be flexible. That’s why outlines are far more useful in moot court. That being said, I’d recommend scripting an opener and closer, and well as a few paragraphs of strong rhetoric that you know you’ll use.
When you’re outlining, be sure to cite precedent. Moot court is decided largely based on precedent, so packing your outline with past case precedent from the packet to support each of your points will be a great help.
About the Author
Kyle Lee has competed in both NCFCA and Stoa. His accomplishments include over fifty top-three finishes, the record for the most first places won at a single NCFCA tournament (seven firsts in one go at the 2020 Bothell WA, NCFCA Qualifier), first place Lincoln Douglas debater & speaker at the 2020 NCFCA Online National Championship, and first place Team Policy debater & speaker at the 2020 Stoa Online National Championship.
Outside of speech and debate, Kyle is an avid rock climber, holds a second-degree black belt in Karate, and enjoys writing music in his free time.