I could not stress more how important it is to maintain eye contact with the tribunal. However, what applies to you does not necessarily apply to the panel… The eyes of judges and arbitrators will wander from one place to another, sooner or later reaching your desk. Will they find a nasty surprise there?
It goes without saying that your desk during the pleading has to be tidy. A mess, useless pieces of paper cluttering your workspace and random items lying everywhere are something you can and should avoid. They distract you and your co-counsel, make it harder to find the information that you need when you need it and are disliked by tribunals as a sign of disorder. I know it might seem petty, but it really affects the overall impression. In consequence, to avoid problems with chaos on your desk, I suggest you keep only the following, really necessary objects and remove the rest:
A bundle is a large file which you can bring to the courtroom and use during the pleading. Depending on a competition, it usually contains the moot problem, laws, rules, cases and other documents you might need to effectively argue your case. This is the most important item on your desk and you should never begin a pleading without it. Just remember that the rules of the competition might determine what bundles can actually contain. A separate episode of the Moot Court Advocacy Series will be dedicated to the preparation of a user-friendly and effective bundle. For now, just remember to print out and bind everything you need long before the pleading so that your papers do not fly around everywhere.
- Watch and timesheet
Timekeeping and time management are essential for your success, so you need the most basic tool – a watch – to take care of them. You only need one, but make sure it is working! Bear in mind that some competitions’ rules forbid the use of mobile phones completely, so you will need a regular watch.
Some people decide to keep track of the time on their own. I strongly discourage it if you can count on your co-counsels help. Your attention should be directed elsewhere, especially if someone can do the timekeeping for you. Regardless of the tool you use, you need to choose the way of communicating to your co-counsel how much time is left. There are many ways: colourful stickers, small cards, but my favourite is a timesheet between the two counsels where you can cross off a box e.g. every two minutes of the pleading.
- Water and cups
20 or 15 minutes of talking is a lot and you need to be properly hydrated to survive it. Organizers often provide water for the teams, but have our own bottle in case they forget. Since a large bottle is quite inconvenient and does not look very professional on the table make sure you have some cups. Remember that water can be used to your advantage – taking a quick sip can buy you a couple of precious seconds to think about an answer to the arbitrator’s question.
- Cheat sheet and pens
A cheat sheet is a one-pager, an outline of your arguments in bullet points that can save you from loosing track of what you are presenting and help you remember key facts, provisions and authorities, as well as when to cite them. You can have it in front of you instead of several pieces of paper with your entire speech written down. When you are a counsel which speaks first you do not need much clean paper, since the only notes you will need to take are short point for the purpose of rebuttal. The situation’s slightly different when you are a responding counsel. Then you need to take extensive notes to remember which arguments the other party used in order to address them. In any event, make sure you have at least two pens to always be able to write something down and that everything is neatly arranged. You will send a message that you are a logical, well-organized person.
The last, and probably the least important item on your desk is your name tag. Sometimes, especially if your name is long or difficult to pronounce, it makes sense to make the arbitrators’ lives easier and have it written on a piece of paper in front of you. However, often teams, while they shake hands with the members of the panel before the pleading, also exchange business cards prepared for the purpose of the competition. Name tags are then not that necessary.
I guarantee that in the vast majority of cases you need nothing more to win a pleading.
All the best,