I want you to close your eyes for a minute and think about your deepest fears. Did an image of a spider or snake immediately come to mind or did the inevitability of death come to the forefront? Some of you may have thought about an ex or maybe even the possibility of failing law school. But did any of you think about public speaking? You know, all those horrible moments you got up to give a class presentation, but immediately forgot what you were about to say, or even all those times you’ve been called on in class to discuss the assigned case reading and immediately blanked before you could even acknowledge the professor. Well, if this is the fear that came to mind, don’t be embarrassed, because you’re in the majority.
The fear of public speaking is America’s biggest phobia. Once you began law school you probably hoped that this fear would magically vanish, right? But here you are as a 1L, about to deliver your first oral argument as you try out for the Moot Court Society or maybe you’re a 2L about to represent your Moot Court team in your first regional tournament, and you’re petrified. So, how do you get past this fear? What’s the magical formula that every aspiring litigator learns in law school before confidently finessing their way into a courtroom? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you because there’s no magical formula. Delivering a successful moot court argument requires a variety of factors that anyone, even the most nervous speaker can acquire. So, I’m sorry I couldn’t provide a magical recipe. But these five tips may do the trick:
1. Embrace Your Nerves
Before delivering a moot court argument, you should take a breath and embrace your nerves. I know it’s hard to believe, but being nervous is actually a good thing. Being nervous allows you to remain humble and to keep your confidence in check. Now while confidence is a good thing, it’s important not to appear over confident, because being a “know it all,” can rub some judges the wrong way. I know that this is a tough balance to strike but thankfully your nerves can do that for you.
Just think about it, you’re nervous because you’re fearful that the judges will ask you a question that you’re unable to answer. However, if you’ve put in enough preparation, you can be confident in this preparation, while your nerves will keep in check the urge to be arrogant. So next time you’re nervous before an argument, embrace it, and use it to your advantage.
2. Completely Understand The Argument
To be a moot court success, it’s also important that you completely understand your argument AND your competitor’s argument. During your preparation, assess the good and bad facts for your argument, how you will use the good facts in your favor and how law or policy allows you to rebut the bad facts. Now don’t make the mistake that most people make and ignore your competitor’s argument. Although you won’t know what they will actually argue before they go up against you, it’s important to review the case record and anticipate their arguments. Assess the good facts for their argument and prepare a strong rebuttal for those factors. Also, assess the bad facts in their argument and be sure to use those factors as support for your argument. If you’re lucky enough to get your competitor’s brief before the competition, be sure to review it with a fine tooth comb and be ready to rebut or strategically concede their claims.
If you’ve done this preparation, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be successful.
3. Have A Theme
Remember when we talked about embracing your nerves earlier? Well, while your nerves can be a good thing because they allow you to keep your confidence in check, they can also be a bad thing because they can cause you to feel overwhelmed and possibly lose track of your argument. If you find that this is a problem you experience, let me let you in on a secret: having a theme for your argument is a good way to cheat the judges into thinking you never lost track in the first place.
A theme is a catchy phrase that pulls your argument together into one sentence, for example, the famous theme from the defense’s closing argument in the O.J. trial, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” A theme applies to all aspects of your argument and it can strategically allow you to recover if you lose your train of thought and steer your judges to a different direction in your argument. I recommend stating your theme explicitly in the opening of your argument, then allowing your theme or variations of that theme, to be your crutch if nerves get the best of you during an argument.
Now, this tip is self-explanatory, but I just want to emphasize how important it is to practice your argument to the point where you have internalized it. So, by practice, I mean, going over your argument every day and possibly several times a day, whether that is in front of your bedroom mirror, in the shower, in the car, before family and friends or in a moot court scrimmage. If you have spectators, tell them to go all the way and test you on the most difficult questions. This will help you to fill the holes in your argument. If you’re on your own, use this time to internalize your argument so that you can completely understand it. But caution! Don’t confuse this process of internalization with memorization. Memorizing your argument verbatim may cause you to get married to the structure of your argument and become fearful if the judges try to take you out of order. However, internalizing your argument allows you to master all the important points you want to make and be far more confident if forced to deliver it out of the order you’ve prepared.
5. Be Confident
Yes, I know, being confident is easier said than done. It’s especially hard to be confident when you’re just a law student and you’re tasked with the responsibility of defending your argument before a panel of actual attorneys and judges. But if you’ve put in enough practice you can undoubtedly be confident in your knowledge of the argument. You can also be confident in knowing that you’re more prepared than the judges. These judges may be experts in the practice area in which you’re arguing. However, I know from firsthand experience that these judges may have only quickly reviewed the case record the day before, the day of or right before walking into the competition. Therefore, after spending months of preparing, you for sure know more about your argument than the judges.
So walk into that moot court argument, drop the mic and leave the judges in awe!
- An avid lover of oral advocacy and everything moot court.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.