As important as etiquette and a confident aura may be in mooting, a legally watertight and meticulously researched legal argument is what will earn you the nods of approval. You can be forgiven for thinking that research is one of the most difficult parts of mooting; problems often thread through many contemporary issues and may seem dauntingly complex at first. However, fear not; a few simple steps are all it takes to take you from hazy confusion to making a clear hard-hitting argument that will grab the attention of your audience.
- Know the basics of the field in advance
If you want to take part in a moot, it’s safe to assume you are already interested in the particular field of law concerned. Spending a week or two familiarizing yourself with the basic principles before official moot preparation starts will save you time later in your research; you will be able to identify the issues faster and spend quality time on the more specific questions. Before undertaking the Willem C. Vis moot, I took time to read through two of the seminal textbooks in the field of international commercial arbitration and browsed a few law journals on the topic, which proved very helpful later when I was pressed for time to draft a legal argument.
- Read the problem again (and again)
It may seem pedantic, but in fact, it is one of the most necessary steps (and, surprisingly, one of the most often overlooked). There’s no getting around it – your credibility as an advocate will increase in direct proportion to how well you know the story you are telling. Read and reread the problem. Remember, the facts are a given and not to be disputed, so don’t make up new ones to suit your case.
- Make a timeline of the events
This will help you map out the events in your head. This is important not only in order to avoid embarrassment when (not if!) you are questioned on a factual detail of the case, but also to increase your understanding of the legal aspects involved. `
- Identify the legal issues
Go through the request for relief at the end of the problem and highlight the key words which will help you navigate towards the specific legal issues to be researched. For example, if a State is seeking compensation for the wrongful search of a ship bearing its flag while on the high seas, then you will need to focus your research on the interception of vessels on the high seas. Move through all the questions and make a list of your research topics. While this is probably more relevant outside of the Obligations 1B moot, it’s useful to mention for any future mooting that you may undertake.
- Clever research
First of all, think quality over quantity. It is easy to get lost in textbooks, and you have only a limited amount of time to dedicate to each topic, so remember: you are not writing a PhD. In preparing for a moot, I found one of the biggest challenges was delineating my research and not being carried away reading on topics that were not the focus of the case. Stay focused on your questions and deal with them directly-don’t go off on unnecessary tangents (you can always flag interesting articles to read at your leisure).
Secondly, when dealing with controversial issues, as is often the case in moots, read both sides of the debate before identifying and choosing the arguments that will help you make your case. Anticipate the opposing party’s arguments and identify their weaknesses in order to have a rebuttal at the ready.
Thirdly, although textbooks and legal journals are important, remember to check out websites and academic online discussion blogs – this will really help you keep abreast of the very latest developments in your given topic.
- Structuring your arguments
Structure your arguments in order of strength – strongest comes first, weakest last. As to their connection, some of them can be cumulative, that is, you can rely on them simultaneously, while others should be presented as an alternative in case the court rejects the previous ones. The more alternative arguments you present, the more compelling and legally sound your case will be. Finally, don’t be afraid to include arguments that ‘skirt the edges of the law’ as final alternative options- it’s only a game, so go for it!
…and finally, remember to have fun!