Jessup Moot Court Competition – 21 Tips from 21 Judges
Wondering how to prepare for the oral rounds of the Jessup International Moot Court Competition?
During the International Rounds of the 50th Jessup in Washington, D.C., 22-28 March, 2009, I asked 21 fellow judges for their thoughts on what advice they would give to future Jessup competitors. Until now, their advice has been as confidential as the Bench Memorandum provided to judges each year. A compilation of their recommendations is given below, along with additional suggestions from bailiffs, coaches, advisors, and national administrators. Your fellow competitors also graciously provided helpful hints, fondly termed “Reverse Tips.”
I would like to extend my gratitude to all the contributors. The judges traveled from Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and across the United States at their own expense and on their own time because they sincerely enjoy their lively discussions with you. They want to help you realize your personal victory – whether the Jessup leads to improved academic excellence, greater confidence and skills in your courtroom performance, enhanced appreciation for working as part of a team, and/or increased opportunities in your future professional career.
21 Tips from 21 Judges
Use the facts as much as you can. Make effective use of the rebuttal. Rebuttal is not the time to rehash your argument or to read a prepared statement. Focus on just a few critical or pivotal issues. A good oralist will address points raised during the round. Remember, during rebuttal, the Respondent can only reply to issues raised by the Applicant.
Practice with team members as judges. They frequently are your harshest critics and toughest judges. Serving on the bench yourself also will give you perspective on how judges phrase questions and approach the conversation.
Jessup is about law, ethics, lawyering, and common sense.
No other process trains future lawyers like the Jessup, as proven over the past 50 years. Jessup is the “Gold Standard” of moot court competitions. Participants must research, write memorials, and argue before the bench. Also, the competition is truly egalitarian. Even if your team does not advance, each individual still gains skills and valuable experience, which likely will be unlike any other part of your future law career. Yes, you will work with real clients, but those clients are not as likely to have cases that have the broad legal and social impacts as seen with the Jessup. Enjoy yourself and the opportunities to meet so many like-minded people who also share a passion for international law and justice. You now join a community of lawyers, united together by the instantaneous commonality of the Jessup.
Practice in front of a mirror. You are your own worst critic.
Practice! Practice! Practice! Have a strong coach who is not afraid of asking tough questions. Keep in mind that the goal is to have a conversation, not an argument, with the bench.
Ulises Ruiz Lopart
Encourage knowledge transfer to next year’s team. This helps the competition to get bigger and better with each passing year.
Think of Jessup as “a helping hand.” Judges frequently will ask questions intended to be helpful to you. Always remember that the judges want you to succeed.
Do not forget the basics. Carefully listen to the question and try to answer what is asked. You risk losing points if you answer a different topic or do not address the judges’ concerns. You also risk having more questions asked on that same topic until you answer the question posed.
Keep in mind the bigger picture. Do not lose yourself in the technicalities of law.
Structure your thougts. The proceedings are more like the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court and less like litigation. Also, it is permissible to disagree with the judges but make sure you have phrasing that is respectful to “Your Excellencies.” Do not just blurt out, “You’re wrong.”
Remember to breathe.
Establish an overall theme for your position, either as Applicant or as Respondent. Essentially, figure out why you should win across all the separate pleadings. Then, write one sentence about what the case is about. Never lose sight of that one sentence.
First, allocate your time effectively. Second, remember that your argument needs a legal basis. Be ready to offer specific legal proof and to discuss the weight of authority, particularly with respect to Article 38 of the ICJ Statute.
If you do not have a coach, read the rules. One important rule governs the scope of rebuttal. The Respondent may only rebut the issues raised during the Applicant’s rebuttal. If the Applicant did not raise the issue on rebuttal, you cannot bring it up. You will be penalized for bringing up other issues. Similarly, if the Applicant chooses not to do a rebuttal, the Respondent does not get any final opportunity to speak.
If you faint, try to make a quick recovery. If you faint twice during the same round, stay down. To avoid fainting, remember to eat and drink plenty of fluids. International flights and stress can decrease your appetite and cause dehydration. You must make concerted effort to ensure that you are well nourished and hydrated.
Kwame Amankwah Twum
Do not be rote in your submissions. Engage in effective communication with the judges. This means paying attention to judges’ queries and keeping a conversational tone in rendering creative answers. Endeavor to release yourself from the bondage of the prepared text. Rebuttals and surrebuttals are opportunities to make a good and lasting impression on the judges. Thus, keep it simple, sweet, and short.
Remember to use your common sense. Read the Compromis carefully and know the facts. If you are relying on cases, read each case so you can answer questions about the facts, holding, or application of the law.
Treaties are more than substantive content. They are temporal and geographic in scope.
Bring only a minimal amount of materials to the lectern. I recommend a single sheet of paper with the core arguments that you must make. Highlight the critical words.
Avoid introducing back-up arguments toward the end of your time and in your rebuttal. You risk being asked new questions that will use up your time and not allow you to summarize the main points of your argument. It is critical that you prioritize and communicate the important legal issues in the time allocated.
Tips from Coaches, Advisors, and Bailiffs
- Advisor Pablo Arrocha (also an experienced Jessup judge in prior years) – Keep your arguments short and sweet.
- Coach Fernando Gonzalez – Remember that this competition is about having fun.
- Coach Anthony Daimsis (Ottawa) – Work with the judges’ different styles.
- Coach (Anonymous) – Buy a prior year’s international round from ILSA on DVD.
- Bailiff Carolina Aguirre – Know the Compromis and jurisprudence.
- Bailiff Ann-Marie Estrada – Do not say “clearly.” Rarely is any issue in the Jessup Compromis “clear.”
- Bailiff Vitaliy Yurkiv – Try not to answer starting from yes or no. First, if you use “yes” to indicate that you understood the question, the judges may mistakenly construe it as your agreement with the question or position. Second, a clear yes/no does not allow you to argue the gray areas of law. Also, the bench appreciates the use of “Mr. President” or “Madame President” when addressing the main judge, rather than the more general use of “Your Excellencies.” Keep in mind that the judges tend to rotate positions on the bench and appreciate the sign of respect given to the lead judge. I recommend serving as a bailiff if you intend to compete. The process enables you to compare how teams: a) create an effective roadmap, b) allocate the time across team members and on what issues, and c) handle the variety of personalities on the bench.
- Bailiff Joseph Vardner – Do not fight the judges. Use your time wisely.
- Bailiff Gregory Parnas – With respect to your personality at the podium, do not be too stern or too relaxed. Strike a balance.
21 “Reverse Tips” from Your Fellow Competitors
Consider the following unattributed sage words of wisdom from your competitors as special “gifts” to your 2010 team. They asked me not to mention their names, saying that their highest reward will be watching you benefit from their advice next year.
Tip 1. Your memorial states your legal position. Use the oral rounds to make emotional arguments.
Tip 2. Wobbly knees a problem? Try a couple shots of vodka before you enter the courtroom.
Tip 3. When the judges get tough, show your spunk and interrupt by speaking loudly over their questions.
Tip 4. When in doubt, make up facts. Be sure to cite a page number so they do not doubt you. Judges do not read the Compromis.
Tip 5. Remember, the Court is a legislative body and can make law.
Tip 6. If the judges look bored, try telling a joke. Try something along the lines of: “A judge, an oralist, and a bailiff go into a bar, . . . .”
Tip 7. “May it please the Court” is overused. Try frequently using, “May I please the Court?”
Tip 8. Make a team fashion statement: wear matching sport jerseys into the courtroom.
Tip 9. Forget calling the judges, “Your Excellencies.” Instead, call them “Umpires.”
Tip 10. Passing notes is old-fashioned and prohibited. Instead, send SMS text messages to each other during oral rounds.
Tip 11. Tweet from the lectern.
Tip 12. Flattering the judges is risky. Try bribery, or offer a hit from your vodka bottle that you brought for your wobbly knees.
Tip 13. Wink at the judges to drive your point home.
Tip 14. Judges get bored easily. Use large gestures and cast your oral arguments into song.
Tip 15. When in doubt, disagree with the judges.
Tip 16. If a judge asks whether you know of a specific case, always reply affirmatively and then bluff. Judges award points for brashness.
Tip 17. If your argument is going badly, buckle your knees and pretend to faint, forcing a rescheduling before a new bench.
Tip 18. Pretend not to see the “STOP” placard. You will be able to squeeze in at least another 30 seconds of your final argument.
Tip 19. Judges never ask the same questions so don’t bother to research the answers between rounds.
Tip 20. Because the Compromis and Bench Memo for judges were written at least a year ago, there is no need to research recent cases.
Tip 21. If you want to win the “Best Oralist” award, always make sure your co-agent looks bad.
If you want to “vote” on which Reverse Tip you like the best, join the discussion on the Facebook Group: I’m participating in the 50th Jessup International Law Moot Competition.
Inside Justice – Jessup Resources
- 2009 Jessup International Moot Court Competition
- Please contact me (email link on the left side of the page) if you have additional tips to include here. Indicate whether you want to be identified or not.