Moot court is a student activity that started at Harvard Law School in 1820 and is now found at almost every American law school. Moot court usually simulates the proceedings of appellate courts but can also simulate the proceedings of tribunals or international dispute resolution bodies. Unlike mock trial – another law school activity – moot court is not simulating a jury or bench trial, so there is no showing of evidence or taking of testimony. Rather, moot court requires participants to apply the law to the facts of a fictional case, arguing for either the respondent who won in the lower court, or for the challenging petitioner. Generally, the facts of moot court cases are written so that they are balanced and do not overwhelmingly favor one participant’s argument over the other.
During moot court, participants first receive an appellate record of the fictional case and then typically write an appellate brief. They may be allowed to select the side of the case they wish to represent, or a side may be assigned. After the brief is submitted, participants begin preparing for their oral argument. The competition’s specific rules will determine the length of the brief, the time allotted for oral argument, and how many participants will speak. Each round of a moot court competition is presided over by a panel of ‘judges’ – depending on the level of competition, these judges may be other law students, law professors, practicing attorneys, or even actual, sitting judges. The judges ask questions during oral arguments, forcing participants to quickly change their train of thought, and to think analytically on their feet. After both sides have presented their oral arguments, the judges score the participants on their oral advocacy skills. Participants who make it to the next round may have to change the side of the case they are representing.
Most law students will participate in moot court oral argument exercises as a mandatory part of their first-year legal writing course. Law schools also hold optional intramural moot court competitions, and many law schools send their most talented students as a team to compete in inter-school competitions. These talented students usually often serve on the school’s moot court board, which simultaneously competes in inter-school competitions and organizes the school’s next intramural moot court competition. Participants in such competitions are sometimes called ‘mooters’ or ‘mooties’. Some upper-level elective legal courses may further refine moot court skills. Participation in moot court is highly valued in the legal job market for its ability to strengthen analytical, research, teamwork, writing, time management, and oral skills.
[Last updated in September of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]