Can you do a video on mooting tips? how to deal with responding to the judges questions particularly if you're one who's not the most articulate on the spot lol- JDAN045

So, basically you're asking me to do a video about me and what I'm like! Mooting can be terrifying, not just because public speaking itself is really scary but because being peppered with questions while you're on your feet making an argument is even worse. The video is at the end of the post.

Mooting is a fact of law school, at least it was in mine.  We had to do three compulsory moots as part of our coursework.  If mooting is not compulsory at your law school, do it! Why would you not? Yes it's perfectly awful, but what you will learn is worth every single panic attack- and then some.

I judged a moot not that long ago, I've written some tips about that here.  Your question is slightly different, you want to know how to respond to the questions from the bench while keeping your cool.  Here goes:

  • Understand the problem

What are you being asked to do? What side are you on? What has happened already? What court are you in? Who is your client? Is your client a company, or an individual? Who is your opponent?

This sounds really self evident but I participated in a moot where my team and the opposing team both ended up appearing for the applicant on the day. This wasn't a problem with the moot question itself, rather that the other team had not really understood what they had to do and who their client was.

They just had to stand up, and argue on their feet because their prepared argument was no longer relevant. Let's just say, we won that moot.

  • Prepare

This is so obvious and evident that I sort of don't think it should be included in this list, but I've seen so many moots where people just completely fail to prepare that it just really needs to continue being pointed out.  

Accept the fact that the Bench will ask you questions, when you accept that preparing will come easier to you. Read the relevant case law (both supporting and opposing your case!), research the legislation, research similar cases in the courts right now. Go in to the moot being an expert in your problem and in your argument.  If what you know is rock solid you will struggle less with being deviated from your argument by the Bench.

Think about it, would you rather be forced to answer a question on a topic you know well, or on one you know nothing about.  

  • Questions are good!

I've seen mooters freeze as soon as the judge starts asking a question. The Bench will ask you a question for the following reasons: to test your knowledge, to seek clarification, to help you, or to further understand your argument. Very rarely in a moot will a judge try to PWN you, (in real life- different story).

As a lawyer, you are making an argument to the court. The argument needs to be coherent, logical, and easy to follow. Questions are how the bench tries to follow your arguments and understand what you are proposing to it, even if it doesn't agree with you. Think of every question as an opportunity to further your case, and as a way to have a dialogue with the judge.

Personally I don't think that you're scared of being articulate, you're scared of the questioning itself. That's perfectly valid, however it's also easy to remedy by changing how you view the questioning.

Think of the questioning not as an attack on you, but as a desire by the Bench to understand what you're saying a lot better. If you've prepared you'll be able to answer questions on your problem, but if you're scared of the questioning itself then you won't be able to answer anything at all.

Remember, if you genuinely don't know the answer to a question, it's ok to say "I am unaware of the answer to your question at this time Your Honour". And yes, sometimes the Bench are asking you questions to help you order your thoughts...

  • Practice

Don't write a script, because a script is something you follow from start to end and is perfectly predictable every single time. A moot is not a play, a moot is a conversation, scripted conversations do not sound genuine and really you can only script your end of the conversation because you don't know how the other side will play out. 

Practice stringing your argument together, practice reciting your main points, practice your opening and closing statements, practice reciting the citation of the cases you will rely on, practice addressing the judge, practice any tricky words you think will come up.

Don't do what most people do and come up with a script in the false idea that having a script will give you some comfort from the unexpected, it won't.  It will make you stumble even more because the Bench will have no desire to follow your script. As a judge when I see a script I purposely take the mooter away from it with questions. Scripts are awful.

  • Listen to the question

Listen to what is being asked, and ask if the question can be repeated, or repeated in a different way, and answer the question you were asked, not the one you wanted to be asked. If you don't know, say so.  If you do know, get to the point quickly.

  • Don't be put off

Yes, mooting is stressful but do not let that get the better of you.  Undertake some relaxation exercises, or vocalisation exercises, have some chamomile tea, whatever works for you.  Keep this in perspective, this is law school, you are there to learn so learn in spite of your nerves. 

  • Be robust

If the Bench ask you a question that you don't agree with, or you think that they have not understood what you are trying to say, say so. Of course you need to be respectful, but remember you are there arguing a point.  Don't let the Bench roll you over just because they're in power, be robust in answering the questions. Not only does it increase your confidence, but also makes you look more certain.

Really though, be respectful, you're having a conversation with the Bench not a screaming match.  If you're rude the Bench will just end up wiping the floor with you too, I know, i've done it.

  • Take your time

Yes, there is a clock ticking, but don't rush through your arguments.  You'll end up getting more questions seeking clarification. If you rush through you'll also end up looking like you are being held hostage and you don't know or understand what you're talking about.

  • Use your team

OMG- this is so obvious but you are there as a TEAM.  I've judged moots where I don't have a team competing I have four individuals and you can really tell at the end because of their low score.

Ask one member of your team to follow your arguments and be ready to provide the cases you are citing; they can also follow the questions being asked by the Bench and be ready to provide some answers by way of case citations, legislation, etc.

If you do not work as a team you really are missing the point.

  • Order your thoughts

Before you open your mouth, take a millisecond and think about what you are going to say.  What I do, is I stick the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth for a moment.  It stops me from talking off the top of my head and allows me a moment to just structure what I'm about to say.

Taking a moment and pausing after a question also makes you appear a lot more thoughtful.

Mooting, the law student's perfect nightmare. It doesn't have to be. Here are some tips for would be mooters on how to handle tough questions from the Bench.