I’ve been lucky to learn from many great mooting coaches and mentors. If I could advise my younger self, before I ever stood up to make submissions in a moot, this is what I would offer:
1. Preparation is key
If you divide the stages of a moot into preparation (research and preparing and practicing submissions) and execution (actually making the submissions in the moot), 90% of your time and effort, if not more, is devoted to that preparation stage. The actual moot should be a cake-walk.
Therefore, the outcomes of a lot of moots are probably pre-determined before the teams even arrive in the moot court. The team that has done the most preparation, and so knows the most law and has the most practiced advocates will probably win. The only remaining variable that might cause that team not to win is poor execution.
There is only so much that being a talented speaker can do. Being a talented speaker won’t help you when a judge asks you what happened at paragraph x in y v z (though you might sound nice while you obfuscate). Only preparation will do that.
Are you prepared for every eventuality? And have you ironed out all of the logic in your arguments? If x happens what will you do? If the judge isn’t convinced by y can you still say z later? What happened in this case? How important is this point? Know what issues you have to win in order to win the moot and what you can afford to jettison.
Obviously, as you near the limits of preparation, and other teams do too, execution becomes the differentiating factor. But by in large, there are very few moots, and very few teams in those very few moots that will reach a sort of preparation ‘limit’ and then have to battle it out on the basis of execution (I think). Preparation will usually be key.
2. You’re assisting the court
You’re assisting the court more than you are arguing with the other side. I think this means a few things.
First, it is important to read the bench. Usually, there are some pretty obvious, intentionally contentious issues in a moot. But sometimes, a judge might disagree with you on what you thought was a relatively simple proposition. It is important not to disregard this. As an advocate it is your task to ensure that all or as many as possible contentious issues fall in your favour. Therefore, being able to read when the bench is disagreeing with you, having difficulty with your submissions or agreeing with you is vital.
The way a judge questions you, or the kinds of questions they ask reveals a lot, as does their general body language. The best case scenario is where a judge expressly states ‘I am having difficulty with x’. This is a gift. If it happens, take some time to have a conversation with the judge on the point and win the point, if you can. Don’t brush it off with something you may have already said.
Second, and relatedly, it is important to answer questions as directly as possible. Generally, a judge won’t ask you a question for no reason, they want to know the answer to something. In a moot, however, there might be some superficial questions to see if you know your brief.
So, be as direct as possible. And frontload your answers (don’t build to a logical conclusion, state the conclusion (answer) and then explain the logic).
Finally, the judge’s trust in you and faith in what you are saying is your currency. You need to seem like someone that they can rely on to inform their judgment. This is a product of a number of things.
How ‘in control’ you seem throughout your entire submission is important. Avoid phrases such as ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, ‘From memory’ and ‘I/we would’. These flag that you might not know what you are talking about. Instead, use ‘the law is’ or ‘I will’.
Try not to get the simple things wrong. For example, if asked at the beginning of a moot who the judges in the main case upon which you rely were and you don’t know, your credibility is hurt, and might detract from everything you say afterwards until you earn it back.
Never lie. Just don’t do it. If caught in an intentional lie, you make it pretty hard for yourself to win the moot. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is better to say that you can’t assist the court, take it on notice and highlight that the point is not crucial to you winning the case.
3. Be conversational, be yourself
Making submissions shouldn’t be a speech. It should be an intelligent and informative conversation or exchange with the bench. So, don’t put on a speaking voice, don’t have a set inflexible script that could come across as unnatural at times. Be prepared to adapt.
At the same time, embrace your style. There are many ways to be an effective advocate. Some people are enthusiastic and some are more matter of fact. Different people present different arguments in different ways. And everyone has different mannerisms. Within reason, don’t try and put on an act when you make submissions. That increases the chance of you being uncomfortable and it distracts you from your submissions. Indeed, different judges will like different styles, so you may as well be yourself. If you have some serious stylistic issues this probably doesn’t hold true, but I think that most people do fine when they smooth out and refine their own natural presenting style.
4. Enjoy it
This might seem like a lot, but take it with a grain of salt. These are only anecdotal tips. Mooting is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, learn about new areas of law and learn skills that are translatable into many different professions. Enjoy it!