Writing in Brief: Whether or Not to Do Moot Court

Nearly every law school has its own internal moot court competition. Law students frantically dash out appellate-style briefs, prep for oral arguments (or don’t), and generally add another stressor to their schedules. NYU’s internal competition is the Orison S. Marden Moot Competition, which I’ve done for the past two years.

Free_use Gavel
Moot court helps you think outside of black-and-white.

Moot court, for those of you uninitiated into the arcane ways of law school, involves a series of “cases,” often laden with pop-culture references, that deal with specific—and often obscure—questions. For instance, last year’s Marden competition dealt with waiver of sovereign immunity, which confused the hell out of some people, but not because the names were based on The Princess Bride. Only 2Ls and 3Ls can participate, which is probably a good idea. I tried to sign up as a 1L, but probably would have run screaming into the night had I tried to brief while reading for Contracts, Torts, and Civ Pro.

During 2L year, I relived my college years as I pulled an all-nighter in my journal office writing the first-round fall brief. I had not done anything but read the record. While I usually try not to drink too much coffee (others prefer tea), I downed cup after cup while I wrote about Judge Fezzik and tried to work awful puns into my brief. Then I fumbled my way through oral arguments because I didn’t practice my arguments at all. This year, I took more time: I read the record when I received it, then outlined a brief. I wrote a very short first draft—but then wrote the bulk of the brief the night before it was due. I plan not to stumble over myself this time around, but the best-laid plans do go awry!

So—you get a first fact pattern; you read it; you outline (maybe); and you write a draft, maybe two. You argue three times, and maybe you advance, maybe you don’t. For those of you who are asking, “Why do more writing?,” I would advise reconsidering your life choices if you are already in law school. For those of you who are saying, “I’m terrified of public speaking!,” I’m not exactly the bravest of orators. Moot court gives you the opportunity to work on your appellate brief writing and your public speaking.

How do you know whether you should participate in Marden? Well, if you want to practice your writing and oral advocacy skills, this is one of the best ways at NYU (besides clinics) to do so. There are several other good reasons to participate. You get at least one credit for participating in the fall round (meaning you can hit that 83-credit graduation requirement more easily). There are awards given to the best oral advocates and the best brief writings in both the fall round and the spring round. It also makes for good talking points with potential employers, if no one else. (My mother didn’t want to hear about sovereign immunity; I can’t imagine why.)

I’ve found Marden to be stressful but enjoyable. As with many things in law school, it’s something you choose to do—and as with most things in life, what you put into it, you get back. It’s probably fairer than law school finals, because if you prepare really well for Marden, you will likely be rewarded. Maybe learn from my example if you choose to do it: don’t pull an all-nighter on the brief, and do prepare for oral arguments. Or don’t! Either way it’ll be an interesting story, and you’ll at least get some practical experience.