Leiden University has a long history of offering students the possibility of trial simulations in the form of a moot court. An entire department is devoted to the organisation of the mandatory moot court for all bachelor students, and most master programmes – such as the ones in Public International Law, European Law, as well as Air and Space Law – also include it in their curriculum.
Not only that, but in keeping with the tradition, Leiden participates in many international moot court competitions too. This year, the Leiden teams have won the European Law, the International Criminal Court and the Telders competitions, while the university’s Jessup team have become Dutch national champions and were ranked in the top-16 worldwide, delivering the best performance by a Dutch university in the history of the competition. And just last week, Leiden’s team won the European round of the Manfred Lachs competition and advanced to the world finals to be held in September.
So why do a moot court?
The main reason why any prospective lawyer should do a moot court is very simple: it’s because the best way of learning is by doing. Participating in a moot court requires a mentality and develops certain skills that are highly valued by any law firm: motivation, commitment, teamwork, as well as individual research and presentation.
While most other courses in a programme provide the necessary background knowledge and general overview, the moot court demands the application of all that had been learnt to a case at hand, and puts the knowledge acquired during the programme to test in a way that no other course in the curriculum can.
That said, we’re not trying to sugarcoat it: doing a moot court, and especially a competition, is a lot of work. But it’s also great fun, and the experience of a lifetime.
Ask any former team member and this is what you will hear from them too. They will readily admit the sleepless nights and rushes to the deadline, but they will also tell you that if they had the choice, they would do it all over again without a second thought. There is a certain ‘addictive’ feature to a moot court competition – and so it is little surprise that many of them become coaches, organisers or competition judges afterwards.
How to get the most out of a moot court?
While of course we do not presume to hold some ‘magic formula’ or ‘secret ingredient’, we would like to highlight three factors that contribute to a successful moot court competition.
First of all, not to belabour the point, but we have to stress that a lot of work goes into it by the team, who spend countless hours on preparation all year long. To help the team, coaches and guest judges also devote quite a lot of their time to practice sessions. If we were to choose a motto for moot courts, it would likely be ‘practice makes perfect’. The teams get quizzed at practice sessions on every imaginable issue related to the case, so that by the time they get to the competition, there is virtually no way of catching them off guard.
Secondly, the advantage of tradition: since Leiden has been participating in these competitions for so long, there is continuity and experience to build on. Coaches are familiar not only with the rules, but also with the expectations and the atmosphere at these competitions. What’s more: every year, former team members come back to help coach, provide feedback, and share their experiences with ‘the new generation’ of mooters.
Finally, our perhaps not-so-secret ingredient: although the teams are always very ambitious and do not need to be told twice to bring their best game, by the time they get to the finals, they just need to let all their hard work pay off and enjoy themselves.
Andrea Varga and Ruben Zandvliet are coaches of this year’s Telders and Jessup teams, respectively, along with their colleagues, Dr. Erik Koppe and Dr. Freya Baetens.