Jessup Cup

The Jessup Cup, now in its fifth decade at Duke Law, is Duke Law’s intramural tournament based on The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. Each Fall, Duke Law students compete for Moot Court Board membership by arguing a closed-universe international law problem before the International Court of Justice.  Duke's Jessup Cup is open to all enrolled students including LLMs. 

The top ten percent (10%) of eligible competitors will be selected for Moot Court Board membership.  Additionally, Duke Jessup Cup finalists are eligible for participation in the intercollegiate Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition with the exception of LLMs who have previously practiced law in any jurisdiction.

For more information, please peruse this site and attend one of the two information sessions hosted by the Jessup Cup coordinators on Monday, September 7, 2015 at 12:30 in Room 3037 or Monday, September 14, 2015 at 12:30 in Room 3037.  Lunch will be provided!  If you are unable to attend, view the slides here

To register, competitors in the 2015 Jessup Cup must complete this form by Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015 at 11:59pm.

Questions can be submitted to

History of the Intercollegiate Competition

The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is organized by the International Law Student Association and takes place in the spring of each year. At the regional level, students in the United States compete against approximately a dozen other schools. Regional champions advance to the international rounds held each spring in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law (ASIL). In Washington, D.C., the various U.S. regional champions compete against each other, and then against national champions from Jessup Competitions held throughout the world to determine the Jessup Competition World Champions.

The Jessup Competition began in 1959 as an advocacy competition between law students from Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Virginia. Since that time, the competition has grown to become the largest and most prestigious international law moot court competition.  Today, approximately 1,500 students from more than 600 law schools and well over 100 nations participate in Jessup.

Duke Law has an excellent history at the regional, national, and international levels of the Jessup competition. In 1968, Duke Law prevailed as the Jessup Competition World Champions. In, 2000, the Duke Law Jessup Team captured a regional championship and went on to Washington, D.C. to become the United States Jessup Champions, where they lost in the World Competition quarterfinals to the Jessup team from Ireland. The 2010 team advanced undefeated to the Superregionals, earning two individual "Best Oralist" awards.

Duke Jessup Rules, in Brief

Any 1L, 2L, 3L, or LLM candidate may participate in the intramural Jessup Cup competition. Knowledge of International Law and/or past or current enrollment in International Law courses, although helpful, is not required for participation.

Once registered, competitors MUST compete.  Given the number of people involved in and the complexity of the Jessup Cup, the only conflicts recognized by the coordinators involve (1) classes scheduled during proposed argument times, (2) religious observations, or (3) serious health issues.  Competitors may NOT miss class or use class time to prepare for or compete in the Jessup Cup.

Students will have 72 hours from the time they receive the fact pattern and selected materials to prepare their arguments before preliminary rounds.  The competition is closed-universe, and students may only refer to this webpage and the provided materials.  It is an Honor Code violation to discuss the problem with anyone or consult any additional materials, including Jessup Cup problems or briefs, outside the closed set of materials specifically provided by the coordinators.

Competitors argue both sides of the case during preliminary rounds.  Each competitor will therefore be assigned a time, room, and opponent for each argument.  Competitors who advance beyond the preliminary rounds will be randomly assigned one side to argue by the Jessup Cup Coordinators.

Competitors are allocated 12 minutes for argument in the preliminary, quarterfinal, and semifinal rounds.  The agent for the Applicant may elect to reserve up to 2 minutes of that time for rebuttal.  Competitors in the Final Round are allocated 15 minutes for argument.  The agent for the Applicant may again elect to reserve up to 2 minutes of that time for rebuttal.  Competitors will be given time updates by the judges or bailiff (if one is present).

View the scoring criteria by which competitors will be judged.

A Primer to Oral Argument

With only minor exceptions, oral arguments presented for the Jessup Cup tryouts should be conducted as in most other moot court competitions.  For those yet unfamiliar with the in's and out's of moot court oral argument, the following should serve as a guide.  For further guidance, consult a member of the Moot Court Board and/or ask to view a video recording of past Hardt Cup or Dean's Cup finals.

Structure & Sequence

  1. Opening
    Competitors should wait quietly in the hallway outside of the room to which they are assigned for tryouts until the judges ask them to enter.  Competitors may be seated after the judges sit down.  When the judges indicate that they are ready, the student should rise and approach the podium or lectern.
  2. Introduction
    The very first statement out of moot court competitors' mouths should always be, "May it please the Court, my name is _____, agent for the applicant [ or respondent], _____."  It is very important to remember to say, "May it please the Court;" it is simply a well-established formality of moot court competition, to which you should adhere.
  3. Statement of the Case
    Competitors should always begin an argument with a clear and persuasive statement explaining the essence of the case.  This statement should be confident, succinct, and, to the extent possible, slanted in favor of the competitor's version of the case.  For example, in a case where United States Armed Forces used a drone to attack individuals in a country with which the United States is not at war, counsel for the government might state the case in the following way:  "This is a case about the limits of territorial sovereignty in the face of global terrorism."
  4. "Roadmap"
    After introducing herself and the case, but before making any further argument, a competitor should identify the TWO or THREE (but no more than three) issues she will discuss.  Make these issues clear and straightforward.  For example, "This Court should find in favor of the appellant [or respondent] for two reasons...."  You should then list your main arguments.  For example, "...First, because this Court does not have jurisdiction; and Second, because customary international law is applicable in this case and is on the side of the appellant [or respondent]."

    If you think of (and/or organize) your oral argument in outline form, the two or three reasons contained within your roadmap should be the highest levels of your outline (below the conclusion you want the Court to reach).  The body of your argument should expand below the reasons you list in your roadmap.  The roadmap gives judges an overarching picture of the more nuanced argument that will follow.

    Memorize your opening and your roadmap. The most successful oral advocates memorize their opening roadmap and maintain eye contact with the judges throughout.  This is the best way to make a good first impression of confidence and preparedness.
  5. Facts
    Briefly outline the relevant facts of your case, taking care to highlight those that support your position, but without arguing your position.  Keep your facts short (no more than two minutes) and focus on the critical elements of your case.  Be forewarned that the Court might interrupt and ask you to skip the facts.  If they do, proceed with your argument.  Don't assume that this will happen, though; it's the Court's decision.  Bottom line:  prepare the facts.
  6. Order of Argument
    Begin the body of your argument by discussing the first issue in your roadmap.  Make your argument, and then proceed directly to your second issue.  There is no need to pause or to solicit questions.  The judges will interrupt you with questions as they wish.  Answer their questions directly and use your roadmap and outline to find an appropriate place at which to continue arguing.
  7. Conclusion
    When you have finished your argument, end with a clear statement of what you are asking the Court to do (a "prayer for relief").  For example, "...For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully request that the Court find in favor of the appellant / respondent and [take whatever specific action is specified in the memorials]."

Etiquette & Style

  1. At all times, judges are to be referred to as "Your Excellency," with respect and deference.
  2. Do not bring pens, pencils, or loose watches with you to the podium.  Limit shifting around and excessive hand gestures while at the podium. Many competitors keep their hands on each side of the podium to prevent this.
  3. Approach your oral argument as a conversation with, not a lecture to, the judges.  Engage in an exchange of ideas with the judges and respond to their concerns.  Don't read a speech to them.
  4. Be aware that at any time during your argument, the judges can and will interrupt you with questions.  It is vital that you fully answer the question to the best of your ability when the judge asks it.  Do not tell a judge that you will answer that particular question later in your argument.  Go where the judge leads you, even if that means not following the argument that you planned.  Don't let this aspect of moot court competition frustrate or distract you.  Part of the challenge is adapting to and taking into consideration the judges' concerns, while finding the time and opportunity to still voice the important parts of your argument.
  5. If you do not understand the question a judge asks, ask him/her to explain or clarify the inquiry.  It is fully acceptable to ask for clarification and almost always preferable to answering a question the judge did not really ask.
  6. If a judge asks a "yes" or "no" question, answer first with "yes" or "no" -- then elaborate.  For example, reply with, "Yes, Your Excellency, in fact ...," or "No, Your Excellency, rather ...."
  7. Never speak over a judge.  When a judge starts talking, you should stop talking immediately, even if he or she has interrupted you mid-sentence (or even mid-word).
  8. It is okay to stand firm in respectful disagreement with a judge as long as you can back up your position with a well-reasoned argument.
  9. At the end of your presentation, the judges or bailiff (if one is present) will show you a "STOP" card.  Once you see the "STOP" card, immediately stop speaking.  If you are still speaking when you see the "STOP" card is presented, ask the Court if you may finish your thought or answer by saying, “Your Excellencies, may I briefly conclude?”  If the Court says, "Yes," then finish your thought or answer, but do not take advantage of the Court's generosity:  Finish only that thought or answer, and then retire.  Do not make new arguments.
  10. When you finish your argument (or run out of time), thank the Court and sit down.

Preparing Your Oral Argument

  1. Know your arguments completely.  In planning your presentation, make sure to highlight and make a theme of your case's merits.  But also anticipate problems for your side and prepare responses to questions the judges are likely to ask or to issues that opposing counsel is likely to raise in his or her presentation.
  2. Understand the basic premise of each of the supplementary materials.  You need not memorize all of the material given, but an understanding of the connections among the documents will benefit your argument and allow you to better formulate answers to questions from the Court.
  3. Focus on the two most important arguments in the problem.  They should constitute your entire argument.  Oral arguments are brief, so you must delve into only the most important (and convincing) arguments available to your side.  With the 10 minutes of argument and two minutes of rebuttal that you have, do not attempt to argue all the points raised in the memorial or all the potential issues you have anticipated having to discuss in response to the judges' questions.
  4. Always focus on why your side is right, rather than on why the other side is wrong.  When crafting your argument, put yourself in the judges' position.  Look for the weaknesses in your argument, anticipate the questions judges might ask, and plan responses that transition to the merits of your position.
  5. 'Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run ....'  Knowing when to make concessions without weakening the core of your argument is an important skill of oral advocacy.  If both sides of the case did not both have real strengths and weaknesses, if the case should have clearly been decided one way or another, it simply wouldn't even be before the court.  It is okay to stand firm in respectful disagreement with a judge, and it is okay to admit a weakness in your case, as long as it doesn't undermine the basis of your argument.
  6. DO NOT WRITE OUT AN ENTIRE SPEECH to deliver to the judges.  Instead it is a good idea to make a brief outline to help you remember the key arguments and issues of your case, and to note key treatises and cases.  Try to limit your outline to one sheet of paper.  Use key words and phrases to jog your memory.  While you should certainly have some idea of what your argument sounds like -- what words you will use beyond your outline -- reading a speech is simply not persuasive.  Reading is one of the most common mistakes made by inexperienced oral advocates.  Approach your argument as a conversation with, not a lecture to, the judges.