Developing a Strong Law School Advocacy Program: Some Thoughts and Observations

David Raack[1]


Although some law schools have robust and well-developed advocacy programs, a significant number don’t.  Schools without a strong program may wish to develop one, and this article addresses that scenario. (The term “advocacy program” is used here to include mock trial, moot court, and ADR components.)

The purpose of this discussion is to identify some key factors (across a range of institutions) that go into building a vibrant advocacy program. The goal isn’t to specify the “best” structure for an advocacy program.[1] One size doesn’t fit all; no single model works everywhere.

It’s helpful for a law school seeking to grow its advocacy program to decide first upon its objectives. Does the school want to maximize the number of student experiential opportunities? Expand its advocacy course offerings? Achieve success in external competitions? Build a reputation as having a strong advocacy emphasis and attract potential students? Improve in the U.S. News and World Reports’ rankings? Any of these, individually or in combination, may be appropriate for a specific law school.

Institutional Support and Staffing

A crucial element crucial in strengthening an advocacy program is the level of institutional support from the university, the law school administration, and especially the law Dean. If the Dean isn’t fully on board, successful change is unlikely.

Also imperative is employing or hiring the right personnel. There needs to be at least one faculty member focused on developing advocacy training at the law school—one who has the time, talent, and resources to do so. Their position could be professor of practice, faculty (or adjunct faculty) director of mock trial teams, director of advocacy, or some other designation. The key isn’t their title; it’s their commitment to the program’s success. Generally speaking, a law school must be willing to provide personnel resources commensurate with a quality advocacy program.

Student Culture and the Moot Court Board

The student culture at a law school can affect the success of an advocacy program—specifically, how the students value advocacy opportunities. At some schools there’s a strong tradition of student interest in advocacy, but this isn’t true everywhere. To achieve its goals, a program may need to persuade students of advocacy’s importance. If students consider being on a mock trial or moot court team a low priority, they are unlikely to put forth the effort to make those teams or the advocacy program successful. Changing students’ attitudes may require long-term efforts to communicate the benefits of advocacy activities—such as practical skill development, professional growth, and resume enhancement—helping to make advocacy opportunities something students seek out and value highly.[2]

The existing student moot court organization or board at a school can sometimes be an obstacle to progress. The student organization may be unsuited to carrying out important administrative tasks, or its members may be wedded to a model where students make all the important decisions, including selecting the competitions to participate in and the team members.[3] Changing over to a faculty-directed model may create student resistance and resentment. As with other aspects student culture, there may be no expeditious way to resolve this. Sometimes all that can be done is to implement a new role for the student board and acknowledge that it usually takes time for students to internalize it.[4]

Competitions, Coaches and Classes

Building a robust advocacy program requires thoughtful consideration of the appropriate number of external and internal competitions. A school might want to maximize student opportunities by participating in a larger number of competitions, or it might decide to concentrate its resources (and improve chances for success) by competing in a smaller number. If growing the school’s reputation for advocacy is a priority, competition success[5] is desirable. Internal (intramural) competitions provide opportunities for students to develop advocacy skills without the pressure (and resources) of competing against other law schools. The right number and best mix of external and internal competitions depend on program goals, available resources, student interest, and student body size.

Another consideration is recruiting faculty coaches for competition teams. Good coaches are necessary to help students learn advocacy skills, and to prepare them for competitions. Using law school faculty and staff simplifies selection, compensation[6] and quality control of coaches, but most schools have insufficient in-house personnel to coach a typical slate of 3 to 4 mock trial and 2 or more moot court competition teams per semester. Practicing attorneys, especially the school’s alums, are often used to coach some teams. Good advocacy programs generally develop a group of repeat coaches who have the time, ability, and motivation to prepare successful teams.

Advocacy classes are vital to a strong program. Classes do more than merely supplement other advocacy opportunities. The variety and extent of a school’s advocacy courses demonstrate its commitment to advocacy training as a key component of legal education. Such courses, whether open to all upper class law students or limited to competition team members, contribute to an atmosphere where advocacy is a high priority.

Reputation Building

Does achieving “success” require efforts to spread the word of the advocacy program’s quality? Perhaps not, strictly speaking. But most advocacy faculty desire that their peers in legal education, and prospective students, be made aware of their program’s achievements. A good reputation also validates their efforts. There are a number of ways to highlight an advocacy program: hosting a competition; putting on internal events for judges, alumni, and practitioners; and other professional and networking activities.[7] These measures to promote a program’s reputation all require some planning and effort.


At least three factors are indispensable to growing a strong advocacy program: a sufficient level of institutional support, one or more strongly committed faculty or staff members, and a critical mass of student interest. These factors aren’t necessarily independent of one another. A growth in student interest in advocacy (due, e.g., to external team successes) can lead to more institutional support. But without all three factors, the chances of developing a vibrant advocacy program are greatly diminished.[8]

Another beneficial ingredient is patience. If a school lacks a culture that highly values advocacy, it requires time for an advocacy program to take hold and mature. Even with assiduous efforts, it can be several years before significant results are achieved. Rome was not built in a day, and neither will a robust advocacy program be. But the benefits and satisfactions of such a program are worth it.

[1] The focus here is also not on the specifics of what to teach students in a trial team setting or trial advocacy class. An excellent source for that is Mastering Trial Advocacy 2nd ed., by Charles H. Rose III and Laura Anne Rose (West Publishing, 2020).


[2] Awarding academic credit to students who compete on advocacy teams sometimes increases student participation and motivation. Issues concerning whether to award academic credit and if so, how to assess student performance, are beyond the scope of the present discussion.


[3] See The Moot Court Faculty Advisor’s Handbook: A Guide for Law Students, Faculty, and Practitioners, at 25, by J. Dimitri, M. Greipp, and S. Salmon (Carolina Academic Press, 2015), observing that “Moot court programs run with little or no faculty oversight tend to garner less prestige and respect.”


[4] Since a law school student body turns over completely every three years, a change in student attitudes shouldn’t, one hopes, take longer than this.


[5] Regarding competition success, see the very useful recent book, Championship Mock Trial: The Guide for Students and Coaches, by Hon. David Nelmark and Justin Bernstein (ABA, 2022).


[6] Providing monetary compensation (as opposed to having coaches volunteer) can increase coaches’ motivation and buy-in to the program, and make it easier to hold them to program expectations.


[7] Other ways for a school to achieve recognition for its advocacy program include faculty participation at professional conferences, faculty publications, and hosted websites or other online resources on advocacy topics.


[8] For a somewhat different take on advocacy programs, one article suggests that students interested in moot court should seek out law schools that have at least some of the following elements: faculty-taught advocacy courses; support for moot court teams through student shadow teams and faculty advisors; the availability of academic credit for competing on moot court teams; and awards, honors and recognition for moot court team success. Winning the Moot Court Oral Argument: A Guide for Intramural and Intermural Moot Court Competitors, by G. Lebovits, D. Gewuerz, and C. Hunker, 41 Cap. U. L. Rev. 887, 943 (2013).

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