Collection Information

Biographical & Historical Information

The Moot Court at the University of Virginia School of Law began as part of the course of instruction devised by professor John B. Minor in 1846-1847.  Minor firmly believed that practical training was an essential part of a lawyer’s education and he elaborated on the idea in the University catalog:


 A moot-court is instituted in connexion with the school, upon a plan conforming minutely to the organization of the courts of the country, the exercises of which are directed, under the immediate superintendence of the Professor, with a view to familiarize the student with the practical details of his profession.  His opinion is required upon supposed cases; he is called upon to devise and to institute remedies; by suit or otherwise, to conduct suits at law, and in chancery, from their inception, through all their stages, to draw wills, conveyances, and assurances; and, in short, to discharge most of the functions devolving upon a practitioner of the law.


             Record keeping for the county court began in 1849, but little more than attendance was noted.  The minutes of the Circuit Court, kept from 1851 to 1871, give more information about cases and decisions.  The records were signed by the presiding Judge Minor, Holcomb or Southhall.  Apparently attendance at the county court was requires because unexcused absences brought a twenty-five cent fine; a student caught “reading in court” was likewise fined.  Each man was required to pay session dues, although there is no record of how the money was spent.  In 1877 the Moot Court opened its own library, for which the clerk served as librarian; each student had to pay a one-dollar deposit before using the library, in case he might damage a book or return it late.


            By the turn of the century the tenor of Moot Court had changed.  There are no records extant, but the 1911-12 catalog describes a less rigid practicum:


  Moot Court– A Moot Court is organized by the students in the first Year’s course for the discussion of legal questions.  Its meetings begin at the opening and continue to the end of the session, with such interruptions only as are incident to the proximity of the examinations.  Attendance is voluntary, as presence during the debates is intended to be a privilege and not a burden.  But every candidate for the degree is required to argue at least one case in the Moot Court.    The questions are chosen by the Law Faculty, one of whom presides over the discussions.  Interest and life are added to the proceedings by the open debate held after the argument, the presiding judge acting as interlocutor, and leading into the debate those with diffidence prompts to silence.


By the 1913-1914 school year Moot Court had been dropped altogether because the faculty felt that the existing courses in Legal Argumentation, Brief Making and Forensic Debating provided the knowledge and experience of Minor’s Moot Court.


            In 1928 the Law Club instituted a Moot Court competition which continued until 1941.  When the competition resumed in 1948, it was not connected with any organization but was simply a voluntary extra-curricular activity.  There were three rounds of competition judged by students, faculty, and Federal judges.  Later the levels of competition grew to five as the studnet body increased.  The most famous Moot Court team to date was that of Edward Kennedy and John Tunney who were “reunited” some years later in the U. S. Senate and drew attention to their former partnership.


            In addition to competition within this school,Virginia’s Moot Court teams have competed in regional and national contests, as well as in “triangular” and “quadrangular” competitions with Yale, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Catholic University and others.


            For further reference see University of Virginia Catalogs for 1846-1847 and 1911-1914; Barrister, 1957; and The First Hundred Years, by John Ritchie.

Acquisition Information

Date Received 2013
Donor Information Moot Court Board

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