Monday, March 23, 2020
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Arizona Law decided to move our 2L/3L intramural moot court competition online. Because our university's announcement about moving to online classes came during spring break, we determined that students who had traveled home for spring break would probably want to stay there to complete classes. Therefore, we needed an option to allow students to conduct arguments remotely.
While our competition is rather small, it is important! The winners go on to represent our school at the ABA's national appellate advocacy competition.
While our competition rounds start later this week, for the past several days our moot court board has been hosting practice rounds via Zoom. I thought it might be helpful to other schools if I shared some tips for creating the competition and for running the rounds.
Competition structure: Each round consists of three judges, a bailiff, and two advocates. The bailiff is responsible for creating the Zoom meeting link, disseminating it to participants, and keeping time for the round. I have asked the bailiffs to list me as a co-host for the round in case of an emergency. As soon as all participants are in the meeting, the bailiff will create break-out rooms for the advocates and the judges. You can find more information about Zoom breakout rooms here. The breakout rooms allow the judges to ask the bailiff any questions before the round begins. They also allow the judges to deliberate after the round.
Although the judges preside over two consecutive rounds, we are creating a Zoom link for each separate round. This prevents the second group of advocates from disrupting the end of the first argument.
Tips for judges: On Friday, I asked our moot court board what challenges they had seen in running the practice rooms. They had some GREAT tips for judges to help make rounds run smoothly.
- Technology Tips
- Be sure to keep your microphone muted when you are not talking.
- Don't forget to unmute when you want to talk.
- I think that the above two points are the cardinal rules for any and all Zoom meetings.
- Consider wearing a headset or earbuds to cut out background noise and to allow yourself to hear and be heard better.
- Try to minimize Internet usage in your house during the argument. Your connection will be better if your kids aren't streaming Disney+ while you are trying to judge (or argue!) a round.
- When I am teaching an online class I try to close everything on my computer but Zoom and my notes. I don't want loud email notifications during my class.
- Use gallery view on Zoom to better see everyone.
- Setting Tips
- Be mindful of the lighting. Back lighting will make you hard to see. Front lighting will help you appear clearer.
- Be sure that there is nothing distracting behind you (or in the room with you!). My cats get locked out of my office during most meetings.
- Argument Mechanics
- Don't mark off for a poor sound connection. Students have various levels of Internet service.
- Also, don't mark off for lack of professional attire. Many of our students went home for spring break not knowing that they would be staying home indefinitely while the whole world shut down. Now, as stores shut down, they might not have the ability to get professional clothes in a timely manner.
- Don't be afraid to interrupt! And don't be offended if students slightly talk over you. Given the lag with online communications, some amount of interruption is inevitable.
- Try to lean forward, raise your finger, or something to signify to the advocates that you are trying to ask a question.
- But please ask questions! This makes the students' experience so much better!
- Don't be offended if students ask for clarification.
Tips for Participants
- Read the judge tips--many of those apply to you!
- Use gallery view to see all judges and the bailiffs. Watch carefully for social cues that indicate the judge has a question, like leaning forward. If you see such a cue, pause.
- Dress as professionally as you can in the situation. If you don't have a suit (or at least a jacket) try to wear something neutral. Now isn't the time to pull out your "taco cat shirt." (sorry, I love my taco cat shirt).
- Be mindful of your background. You don't want the judges asking you about the poster for your favorite political candidate that is hanging the background.
- Have fun and be patient! COVID-19 is fundamentally changing how courts operate. Some of this is good. It is time for courts to get up to speed on technology and offer more video/telephonic hearings. But, these types of proceedings require adjustment by everyone involved. Your video moot court experience will be a valuable one.
Good luck to all participants, and we here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog hope that you stay safe and healthy!