How to Judge a Moot Court Competition

Today I volunteered to judge rounds at my law school's annual Asylum and Refugee Law National Moot Court Competition.
Justices Vong and Cruz (don't judge the judges please)

For those of you that saved years of your life and didn't go to law school, moot court is different from mock trial in that it's an oral argument in front of a panel of appellate court judges instead of the jury like we see in Law & Order. UC Davis (King Hall) hosts a national competition every year that focuses on Asylum law, where law students from all over the country come to Davis to advocate for either a petitioner seeking asylum in the United States or on behalf of the US government.

This topic means a lot to me because my parents were refugees who fled Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge and immigrated to the US. My parents inspired me to pursue a career in public service where I could work with a government that protects the rights of its people, and I hope to use my law degree to advocate for others and help others learn how to advocate for themselves. During my 3L year, I was the Asylum Competition Chair because I wanted to run a national-level moot court competition and I wanted to give back to King Hall's moot court program that helped me improve my advocacy ability.
Circa to those law school days with my co-chair Anita Barooni

I volunteered to judge in 2017 after I passed the bar, and was truly proud of my successors Diem Ly and Shima Vasseghi for improving the competition and increasing its prestige. This year, I roped my classmate Dana Cruz into judging, and had the privilege of forcing the moot court boardmembers to let us judging on the same panel. As a super judgmental person, if I volunteer for something it might as well be to critique score aspiring attorneys. Here is my guide on how to judge a moot court competition:

1. Be invited to a competition reasonably close to you (usually hosted at a law school), or if you are awaiting bar results conditionally offer to judge if you pass the bar

2. Rope friends/colleagues to judge so you know at least one other person there, also mentioning there's "free" lunch and they gift you a mug with your school name that you are unlikely to buy for yourself

3. Read the confidential bench brief they email you before the competition (and if you have extra time you can research the law- this is for truly dedicated volunteers)

4. Eat sugar/drink coffee during breakfast so you are awake and can pay attention to sometimes boring legal talk that will last over an hour

5. Don a black graduation judicial robe that covers most of your casual outfit and pompously move to your judging panel with poise and purpose

6. Make awkward eye contact with everyone in the room, and remind yourself to be objective even though you felt slightly sympathetic for the teams traveling without coaches or parents enduring soporific speeches

7. Scribble "constructive" criticism on comment notes for competitors which are useless because they won't see them until the competition ends, but then try to add something positive so that they don't feel sad or think WTF when they see the score you give them

8. Read the problem numerous times during arguments to try to come up with good questions, and quietly seethe when a fellow judge preempts you

9. When the round is over try to come up with actually useful advice that competitors can take to their next round

While volunteering to judge does require sacrificing leisure time, its always a good experience to observe various methods of advocacy and persuasion and the different ways people [aspiring attorneys in particular] approach the same problem. As a student, I also remember putting hours of work preparing for just a few minutes of presentation, which is super frustrating but has helped build my analytical and legal skills. And for you really sadistic people, it's an opportunity to "torture law students" (schadenfreude: making me feel glad that I'm not you!)


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