“What is your authority on that?” is probably one of the most oft-asked questions in the legal world. You are likely to hear it even more often during moot courts, since you usually have to deal with controversial issues and your knowledge is ruthlessly tested. No matter how witty your arguments are, it is always necessary to support them with similar views of scholars and commentators, as well as favourable case law. Even when you know you are right, your position looks far weaker if it is not standing, as Isaac Newton once put it, “on the shoulders of giants”.
In consequence, both in the written and the oral phase of the competition you have to do your research and find a variety of books, articles, publications and, most importantly, cases to back your reasoning.
But the question remains – where to get them?
Maybe you find it surprising that I put this old-fashioned institution first. However, from my experience plenty of students have no idea of the wealth of knowledge and readily-available sources that university libraries offer. Of course, it depends on the size and profile of your law school, but I still encourage everyone to run a couple of searches there and track as many relevant and serious positions to cite as possible. What is more, contrary to the widespread opinion, the internet really does not contain everything. Professional and high-quality sources that you should use are often hidden behind a (thick) paywall. Instead of giving up, relying on someone else’s citations or inaccurate (and probably illegal) scans it is always better to look for full texts in the place where they are most likely lying. It might be easier than you think, since many universities have access to…
- Legal databases
Specialized online databases that contain pieces of legislation, publications and case law are definitely the most convenient and probably the most effective way of doing research. It is partly due to the fact that people and companies managing them do a huge chunk of the necessary work for you. The databases are usually well optimized and direct you quickly to relevant bits of information by connecting legislation, commentaries and cases, since professional lawyer who usually use them have no time to spare on inefficient systems. The problem is that such databases are almost never available for free and you need to purchase expensive subscriptions in order to access them. Luckily, there are some solutions to this problem. At times universities provide their students with access codes or dedicated library accounts, but forget to mention it anywhere. Check it and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised! Some moot court organizers manage to negotiate temporary access for the teams and this can be your way in as well. Some members of your team members might be doing internships in law firm during the moot and get access to valuable research opportunities this way. Or maybe there is a law firm that could share their user account with you in exchange for becoming the team’s partner and sponsor? Either way, I strongly recommend trying out these tools.
- Researchers’ websites
There are some research-sharing platforms like Academia.edu where people upload their articles and research so that others can access it and use for the purpose of their project. If you are stuck or need inspiration they might be the way to go. People who publish there usually belong to the younger generations of academics. Although their names may lack the gravity of some of the better-known people from the industry, the articles that were accepted by well-known, peer-reviewed papers are certainly a viable source of information and insights.
- Other papers and cases you read
A good academic, just as a good counsel, researches a problem thoroughly before drafting a skeleton of an article. That is why an average academic publication will contain plenty of useful citations. Not only scholars do it: case law often contains many references, since judges and arbitrator prefer to support their ruling with relevant authorities and proof that other courts reasoned just as they did. It means that while searching for solutions to a particular problem you can quickly gather many authorities only looking at someone else’s citations. You must not copy them into your piece without previously having read them, of course. But taking notes and then going through what you could find in the available sources can save you a lot of time and painstaking analysis of not necessarily relevant, yet lengthy materials.
…or any other search engine, so that no one accuses me of product placement. I am pretty convinced that it is the very first tool most people use when faced with a moot court problem. It is for good reasons: going deep into what internet in general has to offer can bring surprisingly good results. Many publications make it to the internet one way or another and (bearing in mind copyright law, of course) you are a click away from them. However, they will be by no means sufficient or exhaustive, so do not neglect other sources that you can use.
Good hunting for authorities,