“The winner of the round is separate from how you rank speaker points.” A message similar to this is given in most LD, TP, and Parli judge orientations, however, it’s a message you’ll never hear in an NCFCA moot court judge orientation. Why? Because unlike other forms of debate, the team with the collectively higher speaker points automatically wins the round in moot court. For that reason, understanding how to deliver effectively in moot court is extremely important. First, we have to understand…
How the Winner is Decided
In NCFCA, each moot counsel is graded on five categories on a one to ten scale. The categories (as of the 2021 season) are organization, knowledge, argumentation, response, and delivery. The points of each team are tallied together and the team with the collectively higher points will win the round. This means that even if a Justice agrees more with your case, your opponents could still technically win the ballot based on having higher points. Keep in mind that this situation is rare, since response, argumentation, and knowledge directly contribute to how strong the Justice perceives your case.
For example, if you and your co-counsel have 48 and 49 points respectively and your opponents have 45 and 46 points, you’d win the round based on having higher points. That’s a key factor to understanding what makes moot court different: “speaks” make you win.
With that in mind, we have to delve into how to adapt your style for moot court.
#1. Professionalism First
Moot court judges are looking for a professional speaker far more than they are a “relatable” one. Since moot court is meant to be a simulation of a Supreme Court hearing, your mannerisms must reflect that expectation. That entails several changes…
Formalities. You have to be familiar with Supreme Court formalities that judges are expecting. Just like how in LD & TP you’re expected to introduce yourself to the judge and ask for the judge’s preferences/philosophy, moot court judges have other expectations to be aware of. For instance, standing when the Justice enters the room and opening your speeches (excluding the rebuttal) with a sentence along the lines of “Mister/Madame Chief Justice, honorable associate justice(s), may it please the Court. My name is [___], and I will be addressing the issue of the [___] amendment.”
There are many other formalities to be aware of, so I’d recommend consulting a fellow competitor, moot court alumni, or your coach.
Content. Cracking jokes or using excess humor is unlikely to be effective in moot court. While it’s still helpful to be “conversational” to some extent, it’s far better to err on the professional side.
Attire. It’s preferable to wear attire suited for court. I’d also recommend wearing darker colors and using a briefcase instead of a backpack or rolling bag. Keep in mind, this is a general rule and I know some competitors have performed successfully with less professional attire. I’d just recommend erring on the professional side with your attire.
#2. Emphasize Precedent
Response. Argumentation. Knowledge. All three of these categories on the ballot directly require a strong understanding of precedent. Since Supreme Court cases are decided on precedent, your job is to emphasize precedent in moot court as well. When you emphasize precedent, Justices will see you as more knowledgeable and carrying stronger argumentation.
There are several ways to emphasize precedent. The first is your argument structure. I’d recommend arguing from at least one to two points of precedent under every argument you give. Logic is fine, but all arguments should be backed by precedent. Second, timing. Deliver your first point of precedent as early as you can in your speech without it detracting from the organization or delivery. The sooner you can show the judge your knowledge, the better the confirmation bias will be for you. Finally, use precedent when answering questions.
#3. Body Language
Ok, this one surprised me when I was first learning moot court. If you watch the NCFCA moot court national finals rounds online, you’ll notice something interesting about hand gestures. There are none. It’s not that finals rounds are weird, hand gestures are not expected in moot court. In the Supreme Court, oral advocates generally grip the podium and refrain from gestures or movement.
Unlike in other forms of debate where moving around the podium or moving it to the side can show confidence, in moot court doing so will make you seem inexperienced. The convention of moot court is to refrain from hand gestures, so as hard and it may be, stay away from them. You might be thinking that’s counter to everything you’ve heard about body language before. And for all other forms of debate, it is. Use hand gestures in LD, Tp, Parli, etc. However, in moot court follow the expectations of the league and grip the podium.
That’s speaking specifically from an NCFCA background, if you’ve seen differences in your league, adapt to the expectations of the environment you’re competing in. Some gestures here and there can be acceptable as well, just keep it minimal.
Since the ballots of moot court are decided based on your speaker points, it’s crucial to understand what makes moot court delivery unique. Now that we’ve explored these three facets, you’ll have an idea of how you’ll need to adapt.
About the Author
Kyle Lee has competed in both Stoa and NCFCA. His accomplishments include over one hundred top-three finishes, first place on Stoa speech ranks for the 2020-2021 season, and 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). He coaches actively through his organization Conclusive Edge. 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.