Monday, April 27, 2020
Nearly a lifetime ago (ok, it was just a month ago), I posted tips on how to conduct a virtual moot court competition. Since that post we have had some other great posts on remote oral argument and presentation, including these tips from Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.
We held the final round of our moot court competition on April 16. Based on that experience, and a few other things I learned along the way, I thought I would offer my final thoughts and tips on virtual moot court competitions, in case we are all doing this again in the fall.
(1) Stagger start times. For our competition, we typically had two separate panels of three judges. Each panel heard two arguments--one starting at 5:30 pm and one starting at 6:30 pm. In my earlier suggestions, I recommended having separate Zoom links for each argument even if the panel was the same. That definitely worked well. But, if I could do it over, I would have had one panel start either 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later than the other panel. Why? Well, I "zoomed" into the first argument for each panel, just to make sure that the judges were present and that there weren't any questions. I ended up having one Zoom open on my laptop and one open on my tablet. This was a lot to manage, especially if there were issues that needed to be resolved. A 15 minute staggered start time would have alleviated some of my stress.
(2) Have back-ups. I wish that I had designated a back-up bailiff and judge for each round. We only had one judge who wasn't able to make it, but we did have bailiff sound/video issues. I was able to get those issues resolved with minimal delay, but having a designated back-up would have been even easier.
(3) Develop an online scoring survey. We ask our judges to fill out a fairly detailed score sheet. I take the scores and enter them into a complicated spreadsheet that incorporates the judges' scores and the student's brief score. When we have an in-person competition, I can look at the score sheets right away and identify anything that isn't filled out correctly. For an online competition, I had to wait to receive the score sheets. Then, if there were any problems, I had to get in touch with the judges. This wasn't an issue with the early rounds, but by the eliminate rounds, I needed to notify the students advancing quite promptly. If we do this again, I will work with our IT department to develop some sort of online tool that the judges fill out instead. This would hopefully help me get the scores sooner, and also ensure that the score sheets are completely filled out.
In addition to these general points, here are a few points from the final round:
(1) Use and circulate a background. The version of Zoom on my home laptop allows me to use a background without a green screen. I wish that I had circulated a background to the students and judges to use to make it a little more uniform.
(2) Figure out an online timer. I didn't use an online timer. Rather, my plan was to hold up time cards. I regret that choice. The time cards didn't show up with the background, so I ended up holding up fingers instead. I wish that I had tested the time cards to know that they wouldn't work. Then I would have definitely figured out how to put a small clock on the screen.
(3) Expect the unexpected (or be sure to lock your office door). Our final round started at 5:30 pm on April 16. I had told my spouse in the weeks leading up to the final argument that he would be on toddler duty all night long. I ordered dinner to be delivered, and reiterated to him right before the round began that I was unavailable. Well, as luck would have it, at about 5:50 pm my very tall, just turned 2 year old discovered how to open doors. And, as I am sure that you have guessed, the first door that he opened was the one right into my office as the Respondent was arguing. My microphone was muted, and the background kept him mostly hidden, but he was still a bit visible (as was my husband who, with a look of horror on his face, tried to quickly remove him from the scene). In hindsight, it was pretty humorous. I wasn't able to keep a poker face on while it happened, which I felt bad about. Now I know to lock my office door if I don't want to be disturbed.