How to Impress: A Guide to Courtroom Etiquette – Sean Taheny

Mooting is an incredibly important skill for lawyers. For budding solicitors and advocates its value is evident. Moreover, the analytical, oratory and research skills that you gain from mooting are universally sought after across all professions. Unfortunately, in the legal world, these skills don’t count for much unless you also observe appropriate courtroom etiquette. In most cases, the deciding factor in a moot will not be the legal validity of the submissions, but the quality of how each side articulates their submissions. If you are presented with a tricky problem in which the law is stacked against your client, the best thing you can do is focus on expressing your submissions as concisely as possible and perfecting your etiquette.

There are many must-use words, phrases and processes that you should use to convey an appropriate level of professionalism, respect and decorum:

Starting the moot

Junior counsel for the appellant should start off the moot by introducing themselves, their Senior counsel, and their opponents. It is common etiquette to offer to summarise the facts of your case for the judge, although in most cases the judge will decline. At the start of every set of submissions, the speaker should summarise them briefly. Remember: it is important to be very clear about what it is you are asking the judge to do throughout your submissions.

Making submissions

The way we use language in the courtroom is very peculiar. Bear in mind that moots are not based in ‘arguments’; they are comprised of ‘submissions’ made on behalf of the parties of the case. The key to understanding how to speak in a moot is to detach yourself from what you are saying and recognise that your personal opinion does not matter to the judge, unless you are explicitly asked to give your opinion. The best ways to do this are by avoiding the word ‘I’ and by speaking in the passive voice (i.e. “It is submitted” rather than “I submit”).

Addressing the judge

Speaking in a courtroom is a highly formal ritual, and the judge should always be spoken to with the utmost respect. Addressing the judge as ‘Your Honour’ may make you feel like Harvey Spectre, but unfortunately, in Scotland, the judge must always be referred to as ‘My Lord/Lady’ or ‘Your Lordship/Ladyship’. Some examples would be: “My Lord, it is submitted that …” or “As Your Ladyship is already aware …”. As unnatural as it may feel, addressing the judge in the second person should be avoided.

Addressing your colleague

In a moot, you will either have the role of Junior or Senior Counsel. A common practice is to refer to the other as your ‘learned Senior’ or ‘learned Junior’ respectively. Alternatively, ‘my learned colleague’ is appropriate. If you need to communicate with your colleague at any point during a moot, you should do so through written notes, since the only person that should be speaking at any given time is the presenting counsel or the judge.

 

Addressing your opponents

To ensure a fun and fair moot it is important that counsel on both sides treat each other with respect, and so you should refer to them as your ‘learned friend(s)’. Under no circumstances should you ever interrupt your opponents while they are speaking. If you pick up on an error in their submissions, simply take a note of it and address it at the start of your own submissions. If you have already made your submissions, pass a note to your colleague so they can address it.

 

Citing authorities

There are several things you can do to make the process of citing authorities easier for you, your opponents and the judge. Firstly, you should always cite case law in its full form, using the full names of both parties, the full citation and the paragraphs you are citing. Secondly, you should offer to summarise the facts of the case in case the judge is unfamiliar with it. Finally, most judges will appreciate if you put markers in their copy of your authorities, so that each authority can be easily located. For example, you might wish to use a colour coding system. However, be careful about highlighting sections of texts, as many judges will consider this unnecessary and patronising.

Other tips

One of the most crucial tips for mooting is that you should take care to speak slowly and clearly. You may feel like you are speaking unnaturally slowly, but doing so is important for ensuring that you communicate clearly and that the judge is following you. A common practice followed by mooters to gauge the speed they’re speaking at is to watch the judge’s pen. If it looks like the judge is struggling to keep up, you need to slow down. Of course, you must also be aware of how much time is remaining and how much you still have to say. If you go over your assigned time, you may be penalised.

Hopefully these tips will aid you in all of your future mooting experiences. Bear in mind that following correct procedure and etiquette is vital to achieving a high-quality moot, and in many cases, it will be the deciding factor. Good luck!

 

-Sean Taheny

3rd year LLB

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