Mooting in the Metaverse

If you are an aspiring litigator, one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities you may participate in are moot competitions.

The tradition of moots goes back a thousand years, to the earliest inceptions of the common law, where novices in the law would get accustomed to a grilling by more seasoned practitioners.

Although moots are an excellent tool for training, especially for developing and maintaining composure and presentation while under pressure, they differ significantly from the true practice of law in one area in particular. Whereas much of the outcome of a case will be informed by the demonstrated facts and the existing law, the performance during a moot is also evaluated through the advocacy skills of the participant as well.

This focus on advocacy is often subjective, and will vary from judge to judge, and case to case. This is also true in real life, and allows participants to experience different types of pressures, and attempt different types of advocacy skills.

One of the unfortunate shortcomings of the pandemic has been that all moot competitions have moved online. While there are certainly growth and learning opportunities for online moots, in particular in preparation for online advocacy that will require familiarity and use of technological tools, it also has significant shortcomings.

The most experienced and effective moot participants rarely read or refer to their notes, and instead are particularly adept at engaging the bench. With online submissions, it’s far too easy to be staring at a screen and reading a script, with the appearance of looking into the camera but entirely missing any visual cues from the virtual bench. Creating a “presence “while presenting through a flat medium cannot be compared to the in-person alternative.

The University of Ottawa has made history this past week by hosting the first Canadian moot on the metaverse, using a 3D virtual space. Ritesh Kotak, a 3L who helped organize the moot, explained the reason for doing so,

With VR, it actually physically feels like you’re in the same room with everybody. The students are going to feel like they’re sitting at their table; when a judge looks at you, it feels like they’re looking at you right; when somebody hands you a paper it feels like something was handed to you. The whole idea behind it is how do we enhance the student experience by leveraging the technology.

The concept isn’t entirely new, and as far back as 2010, the University of Western Sydney piloted a virtual moot court through Second Life. Some of the advantages they touted include cost effectiveness, given the comparative lack of faculty and administrative support needed to host these events.

The UofO moot allowed participants to look around the court room, use gestures when speaking, and even catch an exasperated judge when they raise their arms and ask a question.

While the technology is still far too rudimentary to replace or truly simulate the experience of in-person mooting, it certainly is an interesting innovation and use of technology for educational purposes.

A copy of the virtual proceedings is available on YouTube here.

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