: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Resource Guide to Moot Court and Oral Advocacy

Ever since my own first hamfisted attempt at a moot court argument during my 1L year, I’ve been meaning to post a list of resources for other law students. As useful as many of the articles and books can be, there’s no better way to learn than by watching. I’m pleased to see that many competitions are posting video of their final rounds on YouTube.

If you’re just starting out with oral advocacy I recommend that you seek out and watch as many rounds as you can. YouTube is great. In person is better. Just watch and listen to as many oral arguments as you can – you learn equally from the good and the bad.

Video: Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition at George Washington School of Law

The refining fire of a 1L moot court argument is a time-honored ritual at most law schools. Those who find some perverse enjoyment in the experience go on to competitive moot court tournaments all over the country and even the world. I’m getting ready for a trip to Hong Kong for an international commercial arbitration competition myself later this spring. For students it’s an opportunity to engage legal analysis at a deeper level by wrestling with a particular fact set and testing it in an adversarial process. It’s one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve had in law school and a source of tremendous confidence as a clear demonstration that hard work and expert guidance can get you to a point of competence that your first year of law school may not have lead you to believe you had in you.

We ran across an excellent example of such a competition on C-SPAN of all places, who televised George Washington’s Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition in which non other than Justice Antonin Scalia hear the arguments in the finals along with Judge Marsha Berzon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. C-SPAN finally made the video available on its website as noted by Orin Kerr and Howard Bashman.

There is more information and results on George Washington website on the 2009 Van Vleck Finals and Sua Sponte Blog. I was particularly happy to see an evening student among those arguing.

On the Mootness of Moot Court

My girlfriend brought up an interesting point the other day. The word “moot” has two quite contradictory meanings. The more common one is of meaninglessness – rendering a legal proceeding without effect or depriving it of practical significance. Moot can also mean “to raise an issue” or “arguable.” Apparently this is transatlantic mistranslation, the latter being the original or British meaning and the former an American creation.

So which is moot court? A law school exercise in which to raise an issue or argument? Yes. A law school exercise without effect or deprived of practical significance? Yes, that too. These contradictory meanings are more descriptive than either one alone. Moot court arguments are academic exercises, yet we can only really learn from them if we suspend our disbelief and tackle them as if our clients lives or livelihoods depended on it. One does not find inner peace in moot court unless it means everything and nothing at the same time.

P.S. This insufferable post is my way of procrastinating on a brief for the Vis. Now back to our regular programming…

Texas Insurance Case Attempt to Answer the Age Old Question of whether you’re “in” a car that’s lying on top of you

I’ve recently developed the disturbing habit of relaxing by listening to recordings of oral arguments. offers all the U.S. Supreme Court arguments, nearly as soon as they happen. Listening to Boumediene v. Bush ended up coming in pretty handy on my Con Law final, though I’ll reserve judgment on whether it did me any good until grades come out. Recently I’ve been getting into the oral arguments from the Texas Supreme Court, which is particularly entertaining for the ‘aw shucks’ down-home-y demeanor of some of the advocates.

So far my favorite is 06-0987 UNITED STATES FIDELITY and GUAR. CO. v. GOUDEAU, an insurance case dealing with a good Samaritan who was injured after stopping to help a stranded motorist and being pinned between his own car and the guardrail when struck by another motorist. He’s trying to recover on an under-insured motorist policy that unfortunately for him, is limited by the terms of the contract to “occupying a covered vehicle” as defined by the USF&G policy. See the petitioner’s brief (.pdf) for more background. For the most part, it’s about as exciting as a pig in the shade, but a little after the half-way mark it gets a little surreal as the justices try to parse precedent on whether one can construe “occupying” to include being run over by the car you just stepped out of. The cases cited are, while tragic in the way of all accidents, so bizarre it’s funny. You can bet I won’t be turning my back on my own car any time soon.

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06-0987 UNITED STATES FIDELITY and GUAR. CO. v. GOUDEAU (.mp3) [via Supreme Court of Texas Oral Argument Archive]

Oral Argument, Quality of Performance in the Eye of the Beholder

Anyone who just went through moot court tryouts at the University of Houston Law Center this weekend would do well to keep the following in mind, regardless of the outcome. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun was known to grade the performance of oral advocates who appeared before the court -

A paper analyzing the effect of oral advocate talent based on the grades assigned by Justice Blackmun reveals that he gave average grades to the oral advocacy of three current U.S. Supreme Court justices: John G. Roberts Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Those three justices appear to have managed to overcome Blackmun’s view of their oral advocacy skills.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, as lawyers are fond of noting. May the Best Appellate Lawyer Win, Unless the Facts or Law Dictate Otherwise

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