Sunday, April 13, 2014

2014 Traynor California Appellate Moot Court Competition

This weekend UCLA hosted the 45th Annual Roger J. Traynor California Appellate Moot Court Competition (sponsored by CEB, the Witkin Legal Institute, and the Rutter Group). [Need a refresher on Roger Traynor, one of California's (and America's) greatest legal minds? Click here.]

Twelve California law schools participated. Judges consisted primarily of Southern California appellate practitioners with the final round judged by Justices Epstein, Perluss and Perren.
And the winners were: McGeorge over Berkeley in the finals.
U.C. Davis won for best brief (Golden Gate as runner up) and for best combined oral/briefing score (McGeorge as runner up). So a very strong showing by the Northern California schools. (Oddly, many Southern California law schools didn't even participate. C'mon USC, Pepperdine, Southwestern -- where were you?)

Much can be said in criticizing moot court exercises versus real appellate practice. We all remember this classic, In Praise of Moot Court, Not!, right?
So rather than head in that direction, let's focus on how moot court actually might be helpful for practitioners today. Below are the Traynor Competition's "Grading Guidelines for Oral Argument." They seem equally applicable, and worth bearing in mind, for any court appearance by any advocate, no matter how experienced:

I.  Opening:                            
·        Does the advocate go directly to the heart of the appeal or waste time reciting unnecessary matters?
·        Does the advocate quickly summarize the party's basic position?
·        Does the tone and manner of presentation immediately give the court confidence that the advocate has a command over the case?
·        Is there an ease of presentation that engages the court and makes the justices eager to enter into a dialogue with the advocate?
·        Does the opening make the court believe that the advocate will be candid and address the difficulties of the problem, rather than overzealous in support of a position?
·        Does the advocate read from a prepared statement, use notes wisely, or appear to speak spontaneously, reflecting command of the situation?
·        Does the respondent's opening highlight weaknesses in the appellant's presentation or start from a prepared script as if the appellant had not argued?

II.  Presentation of the Substantive Arguments
·        Does the argument have a theme?
·        Does the advocate make reasoned arguments or state conclusions without analysis?
·        Does the advocate focus on the important questions raised by the case or become mired in unnecessary detail?
·        Is the argument well organized?
·        Does the advocate understand the legal issues?
·        Does the advocate discuss the facts in the decisions in an appropriate manner or pay too much attention to immaterial details?
·        Is the advocate familiar with the record?
·        Does the advocate understand what parts of the record are most helpful to his or her client's position?
·        How well does the advocate handle the unfavorable parts of the record?
·        Does the advocate know how to move on to a different subject?
·        Does the advocate make good use of notes?
·        Does the argument leave the court wishing for more time to explore issues further with an engaging advocate, or leave the court grateful that the argument is over?

III. Responding to Questions from the Court on the Substantive Arguments 
·        Is the advocate prepared for questions or surprised and unable to answer?
·        Does the advocate respond directly and immediately to each question?
·        Does the advocate make concessions when necessary and then explain why the concession is not fatal?
·        Does the advocate exhibit flexibility and use the questions to advance his or her client's position?
·        Does the advocate get rattled by questions or utilize them as occasions for entering dialogue?
·        Does the advocate know when to stop?
·        How well does the advocate move back to what he or she wants to say?
·        What does the advocate do if he or she does not understand the question?  

IV.  Demeanor and Closing/Rebuttal
·        Is the advocate's presentation smooth and confident, or hesitant and fumbling?
·        Does the advocate appear poised and ready to enter dialogue or nervous, unprepared, and unwilling to enter dialogue?
·        Do the advocate's voice and manner of presentation engage the listener?
·        Does the advocate vary his or her inflection and tone appropriately or is the presentation dull and uninspiring?
·        Is the advocate overly rhetorical or sarcastic?
·        What does the advocate's body language indicate?
·        Does the advocate make, and keep, eye contact with the justices as appropriate?
·        Is the advocate respectful of the court?
·        Is the advocate dressed appropriately?
·        Does the advocate make good use of what transpired during the argument to create an effective closing or rely on a prepared statement?
·        Does the argument end on a good note or just fade away?
·        Does the appellant use rebuttal effectively by capitalizing on weaknesses in the respondent's presentation and addressing any helpful questions raised by the court?