Moot Court Preparation

Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 4-5 class periods and out of class time for student research
20 minutes to organize teams and run-off instructions for moot court activity
Materials: Moot Court Instructions (Handout A), playing cards (optional), computer lab instructions, wall map of the U.S.


The purpose of this series of lessons is to prepare the students for moot court, which is a simulation of what occurs in an appeals court. Students will be presented with an overview of the activity on the first day and then assigned to one of four teams. On the second day the students will work with their teams to research actual appellate cases in the computer lab. They will look at cases dealing with environmental law in order to identify regions of the country that have the greatest number of litigation cases and then make inferences as to why that is so.

Students will be able to:
1. Explain the purpose of the appeals court.
2. Identify and list issues that have been heard by the 12 U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.

National Standards For Civics and Government
III-D. What is the place of law in the American constitutional system?

Teacher Background
A review of the appeals process and what takes place in an appellate court would help prepare students for this activity. http://www.uscourts.gov/understand03/ is an excellent site for information on the court process.

Resource Websites

http://www.uscourts.gov/images/CircuitMap.pdf map of Circuit Courts of Appeals
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casesummary/index.html “find law” for appellate cases



Lesson 1: (one period) Introduce the Moot Court Activity
Explain that trial courts are different from appellate courts:

  • Following a trial, the losing party may challenge the results of the case in a higher court
  • Justices study written briefs that were prepared by the lawyers from each side
  • Appellate courts hear oral arguments
  • Justices review the record of the case from the lower court
  • No witnesses are called in appellate trials

* Teacher may want to make a hand out entitled “The Appeals Process” from: http://www.uscourts.gov/understand02/content_6_5.html for the students to read and discuss.

Tell students that they are going to participate in a moot court activity that will involve an appeal from a lower court.

Discuss the Moot Court Procedures that follow:
1. 7 students will be assigned to each case:

a. 2 lawyers for the petitioner (the loser in the trial court)
b. 2 lawyers for the respondent (the winner in the trial court)
c. 3 justices on the appeals court (1 chief justice and 2 associate justices)

2. Lawyers will prepare written briefs that will be sent to the appellate court prior to giving oral arguments. Students learned how to write briefs in English class during the beginning of the quarter.

3. Justices assigned to the case will be expected to read the briefs and prepare questions that they will ask the lawyers during the presentations of oral arguments.

4. Each side will have 10 minutes to make their case during oral arguments.

5. Lawyers should expect to be interrupted with questions from the justices

6. After the oral arguments have concluded, the justices will deliberate and make their decision.

a. One of the justices in the majority will write the majority opinion of the court.
b. The second justice who votes with the majority will write a concurring opinion.
c. One justice will write a dissenting opinion
- If there is a majority decision, each justice can write his/her own decision or the Chief Justice can select one student to write the majority opinion (this is up to the teacher).

7. In preparing their cases, lawyers should consider:

a. What does each side (party) want?
b. Which arguments would be most persuasive for your position?
c. What are the legal precedents and how do they influence this particular case? (look for arguments that were successful in previous cases)
d. What might be the consequences if the justices choose your position?

8. In deciding the case, justices should consider:

a. Legal reasoning
b. Reference to court precedents
c. Their personal ideology

9. Possible outcomes of the appellate court. Justices may:

a. Reverse the lower court’s decision and remand the case for a new trial
b. Reverse the decision of the lower court and render a judgment that they believe the trial court should have handed down.
c. Affirm the decision of the lower court (they found no error in the lower court’s decision).

Handout “Moot Court Instructions” to the students (hand-out A).

Make Team Assignments:
Students can number off by four’s or draw cards. If students draw cards, use the following procedure:

Clubs= Team A
Spades= Team B
Hearts= Team C
Diamonds= Team D
Face Cards King, Queen and Jack are justices
Numbers Red= Attorney for Petitioner
Numbers Black= Attorney for Respondent
  • The teacher must prepare the cards so that the teams turn out correctly.
  • The number of justices can be adapted to accommodate classes larger than 28.

Lesson 2: (2 periods) Explore possible cases for moot court.
1. Students will work with their teams to investigate cases that have been appealed to gain an understanding of the types of cases heard by appellate justices.

2. Tell students they will investigate cases that have been appealed to the federal Courts of Appeals. Explain that the 94 federal districts are divided into 12 circuits, each having a Court of Appeals. Using the map at http://www.uscourts.gov/images/CircuitMap.pdf assign each team, 3
regional circuits to investigate. Suggested assignments:
Team A: 1, 2, 3 and 12 Team C: 7, 8
Team B: 4, 5, 6 and D.C. Team D: 9,10 and 11

3. Students should be given the following instructions when they go to the computer lab:

a. You and your team will work together to search for cases that have been appealed to courts within your assigned circuits.
b. To search for cases within your circuit:

Go to: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casesummary/index.html select “environmental law” under legal topic. Click “search”.

c. Record the following information to take back to the classroom:

i. Name of Case and Date of appeal
ii. Location: Where does the case take place? And which circuit?
iii. What was the issue?

d. As you conduct your search also look for cases that your team may want to use for the moot court activity. The case must involve an environmental health issue and contain sufficient background information to complete the moot court assignment. Record the names of your top 3 choices on a sheet of paper (name of case; U.S. v. Templeton)

e. Meet with your team to discuss the cases you looked at and turn in your team’s top three choices by the end of the period. The teacher should look over the cases to make sure that there are no duplications among teams. If possible, assign each team their first choice; making sure that the case deals with an environmental health issue and provides enough background material for them to use in preparing briefs and oral arguments.

Lesson 2 (part 2) (one period)
1. Post a large map of the United States in front of the room.

2. Provide each team with straight pins (if possible pins with different colored heads so that each team has a different color for each circuit).

3. Have each team place a pin for each case they found within their circuit on the map in the appropriate geographic region.

4. Ask the class to look for patterns. In what regions are most of the cases appealed? What inferences can you make?

5. Give each team sheets of butcher paper and markers. On each sheet of butcher paper have students write the number of the circuit appeals court and then list the names and types of cases that were heard by that court. For example: Circuit 8 (U.S. v. Templeton-Clean Water Act). Each group will share their findings with the rest of the class.

6. After all of the groups have presented ask the class to comment on any additional patterns that they observe: are there any issues that are more common in one region than another? Are there any regions of the country that seem to have more litigation cases than others? Why do they think this is?

The teacher should conclude the lesson by assigning the cases that each group will use for their moot court activity. Tell students that they should read the background of their assigned case. Tell them to not to focus on the appeals court’s actual decision as they are going to argue their own case before a different group of justices and therefore may get a different decision.

Lawyers must write briefs using the guidelines listed in Handout A and bring 2 copies (one for the justices and one for the teacher) to class prior to their assigned moot court date. The deadline should be 4-5 days prior to the moot court so that the justices have time to read the briefs and prepare questions for the oral arguments.

Embedded Assessment
The actual assessment will be the students’ performance in the moot court activity. This series of lessons are intended to prepare the students for the activity.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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