Moot court refers to the law school extracurricular activity in which students argue fictional cases, or at least cases that have already been decided by a real court of law. Generally, these courts are a method of training students for careers in practicing law, particularly when it comes to analysis of legal issues. Moot court usually adopts the appellate court procedure — that is, using cases that concern appeals of a trial court.
Law professors are responsible for assigning cases that address pertinent legal or political issues, or at least an issue of current interest. Students choose or are assigned the positions to take, then they conduct legal research to prepare their arguments to support their stances. Also, students must be prepared to overcome legal authority stemming from statutes, regulations, and case law that opposes their positions. The legal analysis, the argument, and the facts of the case are compiled in formal legal papers called appellate briefs, with citations of the legal authority included.
After writing the appellate briefs, students present their positions in a mock court with an allotted block of time to speak before a simulated panel of judges, usually comprised of law professors, students, or actual judges. This phase of the moot court process is meant to test the students' ability to prepare, organize, and present their cases. Students participating in these courts are also meant to think quickly and respond reasonably to questions, as any of the panel members can interrupt the presentation at any given time to ask questions regarding the case's facts or the student's position. After the presentation, the court panel reviews the student's performance, designed to provide constructive criticism.
A moot court is usually confused with a mock trial. Moot courts and mock trials are similar in that they are fictional. While a moot court refers to a simulated appellate court, however, a mock trial adopts the procedure of a jury or bench trial. In mock trials, there is an emphasized focus on jury persuasion techniques, as well as knowledge and application of the rules of evidence.
Moot courts are considered an important component of the law school experience. Some law schools require that students participate in a moot court argument at least once before graduation and receipt of their law degrees. Some focus on specific legal areas, such as constitutional law or criminal law; and they differ from one law school to another in determination of legal interests and skill levels.