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…I wish you would’ve spent a little more time responding to their solvency argument… GOV team spent a lot of time defending but completely ignored the crux… I didn’t really fully understand how your Korea example applied…

Ever gotten comments like these?

I certainly have, and they annoy me to no end. It’s not that the judge is wrong; in fact, it’s the opposite. The critiques they make are legitimate, they just come a little too late for anyone to do anything about them. It’s not that I disagree with my audience, I just wish I could’ve known about them when I had the chance to fix things.

No matter how much prep you put in, every debater will eventually come across one of these situations, where the topics they address (or more likely don’t address) fail to answer the questions their audience is forming in their own private minds. Rounds like this often end with confused judges and disappointed debaters.

The problem is, in TP, LD, and Parli, your audience is not allowed to give any input whatsoever, no matter how desperately the input is needed to clear things up. Instead, the burden is on you as a debater alone to ascertain what your judge is thinking, and exactly what information is needed to address their concerns. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a type of debate where your audience could get more involved?

Well, there is. It’s called moot court, and it’s awesome.

If you’ve ever competed in moot before, you know firsthand how intense the questioning can get. In-round, you and your partner are acting as lawyers pleading your case before the supreme court, and just like the real court, if a justice has a question or a topic they’d like you to address, you’d better believe they’re going to ask you about it–sometimes multiple times just to make sure you know your stuff. It’s super efficient, super competitive, and super fun.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Wow Noah, that sounds like a lot of supers. How can I get started?”

I like where your head’s at. Want to try out moot court for the first time? Already signed up for the next tournament? Here are some tips to get you going.

1. Read. Everything.

The first step to effective mooting is a deep knowledge of the problem. Start with the facts of the case, outlining everything as you read so you have something to reference later on. Pay close attention to details, because chances are they’ll come in handy later.

After you finish reading and organizing the facts of the case, move on to the court documents from the district and circuit decisions and start digesting the different issues you’ll be presenting. Don’t go very deep into past court precedent yet, just get a grasp of the main ideas behind the arguments being made and the reasons each court decided their respective ways.

Finally, start diving into the court decisions referenced throughout the court briefings in the problem packet and index. This is where it’s okay to stop outlining things, because the court decisions just get too complex. Still pay close attention though; this is where most of your argumentation will be coming from.

In my experience, this is the most important step. If you know your material, then no matter what the judge asks you, you’ll always have an answer.

2. Make Summaries of Important Cases

As you start getting more familiar with the problem, begin making mini outlines of the cases you’ll need to understand, to use as a reference point when practicing and memorizing information. Make sure you put the facts of the case, the holding, the precedence set, and any dissenting opinions you think are relevant. All of these may become important, and having them there ready for you will keep you from missing opportunities.

As you make the outline, make sure you read over the majority opinions if you’ve got the time; it makes you sound very knowledgeable if you can quote specific justices when making arguments.

3. Outline Your Speech

Even though your judge will be asking you questions and throwing you off track a bit, it’s still a good idea to have a general plan for where you want to end up and the arguments you’d like to cover. At the beginning, you’ll want to practice with your outline, and then later simply use it as a reference point.

Regardless of what you’ll be covering, try to split up your outline into all the issue’s distinct parts.

Start out with something along the lines of this intro:

Mr./Madame Chief Justice, and may it please the Court. My name is ____. My co-Counsel, ____, and I represent ____, the Petitioner/Respondent in today’s case. My co-Counsel will be addressing the issue of ____, and I will be addressing ____. This Court should affirm/reverse the decision of the Circuit Court because ____.”

Then, work on filling in case precedent and arguments into each of the specific parts of your speech. Obviously, once the judges start asking questions you could end up anywhere at any point, but it helps to have a general plan of what you want to cover and what those points will look like.

4. Venture Outside the Universe

Having trouble understanding a specific issue? Feel like you know everything and there’s nothing to improve on? Great. That’s where this tip comes in handy.

Of course, if you’re working with a closed universe (most leagues), you can’t exactly use anything outside the packet in-round, but you can use it to get a leg up on your competition. Here’s how it works.

If you’re just starting out working through the packet, take the big issues you’ll be discussing and go find articles and debriefings on them to better understand what you’re dealing with, then use that background knowledge to help you formulate your arguments for the round.

If you’ve already gone through the packet, look into 3rd party analysis of specific cases to get a better grasp on the facts and how/why the court ruled the way it did. This will make you sound even more credible when faced with actual JD’s as judges.

5. Practice

Practice makes perfect, and in moot court, practice can save you from making a complete fool of yourself. All it takes is one overlooked issue and before you know it you’re being overcooked by the judge (haha, okay I’ll stop).

The fact of the matter is, in moot court, practice usually brings up issues you had never thought of before, so if you care at all about doing decently in competition, make sure you do just a little bit of it before your next tournament. So how can you maximize your practice time?

One way would be by keeping track of all the questions your judges ask, and going back to get better answers after the round. The more concise and to the point your answers are, the more prepared you’ll sound, and the higher your judges will rank you.

ALRIGHT. Those are my tips. Now moot away.

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