Monthly Archives: February 2012

Legal and Social Media History

A couple days ago I had the opportunity to be a part of legal and social media history. It was the first time that a legal appeal has been argued over twitter. The Vancouver Sun article on it can be seen here. The moot competition brought together teams from several of the top Canadian law schools and judges from across the country. The case at hand was an appeal of the West Moberly decision.

“The West Moberly First Nations’ court case focused on mining exploration being carried out by First Coal Corporation in the habitat of the Burnt Pine Caribou Herd.  … The government’s own experts cautioned against the impact on the Burnt Pine herd, which previous development has reduced to 11 members.”

Within the case we were set to focus on two key issues: the extent to which a right to hunt could be limited to a specific herd of caribou, and the extent to which previous development should be factored into the decision making process. Through a lottery, Team UBC was set to represent the Province of Alberta. This meant that we had to support the views of the provincial government without reflecting our own personal beliefs. On the first issue, Team UBC was focused on showing that the right to hunt should not be narrowed to a single herd of a single species, but should be a broad right to hunt within a general geographic area. Team UBC also supported the view that past actions should not be included in the decision making, and should only relate to the development at hand.

I first became involved with this project because of my familiarity with the great work of West Coast Environmental Law. I have been undertaking an internship at this organization since September and have gotten to see the impact the people here have on protecting the environment every day.  I decided to undertake this level of work at West Coast because of my belief that our politics has become too focused on the short-term, ignoring those long term challenges that include climate change, the growing debt and deficits, and the growing inequalities in society. This is what I have written about in my book New Liberalism, which you can find out more about here:

The purpose for writing this article is that I have been asked to discuss the experience of taking part in the world’s first Twitter Moot. It is only natural to begin with the preparation that went into it. We were given our team positions, and were set off to research the case. We then had to put together a two page factum setting out our points. This factum needed to explore our position on the two issues described previously. The next big step was to go through a practice run with WCEL. The organization sent out the rules and a memo discussing what should take place, followed by a Webinar that allowed more interaction – including some test tweets.  This was an online training course that allowed teams from across the country to take part. I then met with my teammate to discuss our strategy. Since we were pretty much meant to support the views of the two teams that would go before us, we decided that we would put forward a ‘hail mary’. We thought it would be best to focus on the ‘twitter’ end of the twitter moot. While we still made sure to present solid arguments, we also thought a debate over this medium needed to include references to @vikileaks30, and the likely retweeting of our arguments by @AshtonKutcher because of their popularity. This helped get #twtmoot trending in Canada. This approach led to the comments that can be found here:

On the day of the event itself I woke up early to discuss this turning point in the legal profession on CBC Early Edition. I then went to the office, where I got my computer set up to show four things: the twitter feed on the WCEL website, the twtmoot list on Twitter, a page with notes, and my personal twitter page so I could compose messages.  Needless to say it was a little crammed. I got the chance to watch two teams present before Team UBC, but that still could not prepare me for the fast paced event that was yet to come. It did not feel like a traditional moot that rewards speaking at length. Instead, it was furious typing and refreshing, trying to continue submissions while being blasted with questions from three prepared judges. It was definitely a new experience! I never thought that I would ever be measuring how long it takes to write out a single tweet, but such is the journey of life.

The big question that comes out of this is the future of social media and the law. As we have seen in most other areas of our life, modern technology continually changes the culture that has come before. I don’t believe that this medium could ever replace the traditional courtroom, but social media certainly will change the way the law is communicated, just as it has changed politics, the news and life in general. Law at its core is a communication and organization tool in society, and so it seems highly unlikely that our actions in making history will not lead to more interaction between these two worlds. It is exciting to be at the turning point of a new legal profession, and I am energized to see its shape and contour in the coming years.

Law Games 2012

First of all, my apologies for the delay in posting this. As it turns out, there is no easing into second semester and this year’s factum/moot combo consumed a great deal of January and early February. On the bright side, we all made it out alive and it was a very rewarding and interesting experience.

And now for Law Games! If the task were put to me to sum up the Games in one word, it would be “whirlwind”. From the moment we arrived at the hotel downtown, where 600+ law students would be staying for the four days, things were a mixture of chaos and hilarity…

As we pulled up outside the hotel, we caught our first glimpse of the UBC uniforms which were, wait for it… Gold lamé tracksuits. We had been informed prior to the games that this was what we were in store for, but it really is hard to conceptualize what it will look like to be dressed entirely in shiny gold fabric. To say the least, as a team we looked completely ridiculous absurd fantastic.

Everyone seemed to be checked in by around 3, and by 4 some of the schools were already full-swing in Law Games mode. It was confirmed that the week was going to be interesting when students from the University of Saskatchewan were playing bagpipes on one of the floors by 6 p.m.

The first night involved Opening Ceremonies at the Commodore Ballroom downtown Vancouver, and it was really great to get to meet students from other schools who we would normally never cross paths with. In addition, the evening provided our first real look at everyone’s uniforms, which were, shall I say, fashion-forward across the board. Western’s contingent was sporting camouflage pants, Dalhousie’s students were decked out in sailor costumes, UVic’s group had rabbit ears, and yet Team UBC was definitely the belle of the ball in our shiny gold suits. In fact, the other teams were so jealous that it became some schools’ sole goal (not going to name any names here, you know who you are!) to steal our jackets for the rest of the games. Lesson learned: gold lamé pants are surprisingly desirable.

After the first day, the weekday schedule was full of every imaginable sport; flag football, inner tube water polo, kickball, dodgeball, hockey, and volleyball to name a few. Western ended up winning the Sports cup, while UVic took home the much desired Spirit Award (well-deserved, might I add). The University of Saskatchewan, with their beloved battle cry of “Trac-tor”, took home the “Fun Games” Award. This involved excelling at competitive events such as the Polar Bear Swim at Wreck Beach, the trike race, and Jumbo Jenga.

In addition to the day-time games, there were social events every night. The second evening featured a Gastown Pub Crawl, which rapidly devolved into a Cab Crawl as teams raced to make it to all the locations in time. There was also a talent show held at Venue nightclub, featuring several surprisingly good choreographed dances, and esteemed judges from our faculty who were fantastic sports. The last night entailed a Closing Banquet at the Vancouver Convention Centre, during which video parodies were aired from each school. I am proud to say that UBC won with a video entitled “As Long As You Pay Me”, a take on the Backstreet Boys’ hit “As Long As You Love Me”.

My sport of choice for the week was soccer and I had a great time bonding with Team UBC, as well as competing against other schools in a fun atmosphere. I would say that next to our triumphant soccer wins, my personal highlight of the Games was probably the first night. The hotel had grouped participants from the same school together, so a lot of students ended up exploring the different floors throughout the evening. Everyone I met that night was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in meeting other law students, which is exactly what the Games are about.    

Overall, the Law Games were an excellent experience and I would definitely recommend participating. Even if you don’t get a chance to really get to know students from the other schools, it’s an opportunity to meet students from your own school who you may not have any classes with. Plus, while I am admittedly slightly biased, I firmly believe UBC deserves to have a Spirit Award in our collection and next year could be the year!

Reasons to do a competitive moot

I’ve heard lots of rumblings about factums in the hallways as of late, which can only mean one thing – the first year moots must be around the corner. Good luck everyone!

Although giving oral submissions is nerve-racking, and writing a factum is the most difficult assignment of 1L (in my humble opinion), I really enjoyed my first year moot. I went into law school thinking I’d like to be a litigator, and the moot was my first taste of what that actually means.

In March, there will be opportunities for first years to audition for an upper year, competitive moot. I say go for it! The audition process is painless: last year we were asked to prepare an argument for or against making first year pass/fail. The audition was 5 minutes long, but it felt like it was over in 30 seconds. So you really have nothing to lose by trying, and a heck of a lot to gain if you get drafted!

Doing a moot has been the coolest experience of law school thus far. In just a week’s time, I will help represent UBC in the hotly contested UBC/UVic moot. This moot is the only strictly civil law moot (we’re doing tort law this year) and UBC and UVic are the only participants (which means there’s a healthy rivalry). UBC has a strong record of wins, but last year’s team was defeated. The pressure is on as my team and I are determined to bring the Matthew Begbie trophy home!

Here are some reasons why you should moot!

1. You will actually learn how to write a factum

This is not a jab at the first year legal writing program – it’s just that you will have so much more feedback. The factum coaches for my moot are Professors Edinger and Blom. I have literally spent hours in Professor Edinger’s office going over drafts. Not to mention that I had Professor Blom, an expert in the field, as my own personal sounding board for my arguments. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

2. You will improve your oral advocacy skills tremendously

I’m going to sound spoiled pretty quickly here, but writing the factum is only one half of the task. In one week, we will have to get up in front of real judges and plead our cases. To help us prepare, Davis LLP has been hosting practice rounds with their experienced litigators, and our coaches have been rounding up their colleagues for weekly practices on campus. I can’t even begin to describe how valuable this has been. Not only have these practices helped me construct my arguments and polish answers to questions, I’ve also refined my style. At the beginning of this experience, I was a compulsive “um”-er with crazy, flapping hands. I also had to be told that when I get flustered, I get defensive and come across as aggressive to the bench… Those are good things to work on now, rather than when there are a real client’s interests at stake!

3. You will meet great people

This includes your moot team, professors, practitioners and judges.

I think it’s safe to guarantee that you will bond with your moot team and add to your circle of law school friendships. While there are plenty of chances to get to know your professors, if you’re anything like me then you didn’t really pounce on your chances in first year. This is an opportunity to learn first hand what your intuitions have been telling you – professors enjoy helping their students. The lawyers at Davis are also incredibly generous, and I assume that any firm that offers to coach mooters does so because they want to help foster a budding crop of litigators. It’s nice to be on their radars. And lastly, you will be pleading before real judges, and you will get their feedback on your performance. For someone just starting out, that’s pretty awesome.

One word of advice

If you decide that you’d like to audition, have a look at which moots are available and which professors coach them. If there’s a moot you’re really keen on, send the coaches an email and introduce yourself, especially if you don’t have a class with them. The selection process is a bit like a draft, so it can only help you if the coaches know who you are and that you’re enthusiastic about their moot. Good luck!

Judicial Externship

Dear 1L’s, 2L’s and law school hopefuls,

I am currently a judicial intern through UBC’s Judicial Externship Program and I can definitively say, without hesitation, that this was the best way for me to end my last three years of law school. For those that know nothing about the program here is a bit of context. Every semester for the past nine years, eight third year law students from UBC are posted at Provincial Courthouses across B.C. I am at the Surrey Courthouse with another intern, there are three interns rotating through the Vancouver courts (Main, Robson, North Van and Richmond), one intern in Port Coquitlam, one in Victoria and one in Prince George. Monday through Thursday we work at our courthouse and on Fridays we have a three hour seminar at UBC to reflect on the experience. The program runs for the entire semester and we get 16 credits for the semester; the Externship is pass/fail but we receive a percentage grade for the seminar.

The work that we do at the courts mainly consists of observing court and doing research and writing memos for judges. However, that sentence does not begin to capture the invaluable lessons that we have all been learning from this experience. As an intern, I am no longer just an observer who snuck in the door and hesitantly grabbed a seat in the back corner, hoping not to interrupt anything and feeling out of place. As an intern, I have a “backstage” pass to the process. Literally, I have a security pass that allows me into chambers and my “office” is in the judge’s library. From there, I converse with the judges on the cases that they are hearing, they call us down to watch when something interesting is going on and they will often call us into chambers on breaks or stop by our “office” to discuss what was heard. I am on a first name basis with some of the clerks and sheriffs and they will stop and provide their perspectives and tidbits of information. Some of the sheriffs have been in the courthouse longer than the judges and have some great war stories to share.

To top it all off, all of we are being sent to a district court (in the North for most of us) and on a circuit with a judge. For example, on February 20th I will be heading to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) for a week to observe court in Queen Charlotte City and Masset. On February 27th I will be heading to Prince Rupert for three days to have a one on one experience with the judges up there. This unique experience allows us to contrast the city court process to the ones in small towns and with predominantly First Nations communities. I cannot speak to this experience just yet, since I haven’t been on my circuit, but here’s a link to Marlisse Silver-Sweeney’s experience from last year, I have also posted a couple pictures from Rianna Molby’s experience in Bella Bella from a few weeks ago.

All in all, the actual experience of the Externship has been amazing so far. At the Surrey court all of the judges have been very welcoming and are happy to take us under their wing. This isn’t an experience where we are loaded with research work and are typing away in the court library until the wee hours of the night. Unless we have a busy week, most of us are at the courtsfrom 9-5pm and free on weekends. Oh yah, didn’t I mention that there are no readings, papers, or exams? Yup, you read me right, I have FREE TIME! It’s an amazing feeling that I haven’t quite gotten used to just yet. To clarify, there is some work involved, for the seminar we are required to post a weekly journal entry on Vista and then comment on each other’s journals. We are also required to do a half hour presentation at some point during the term, most likely on our circuit experience.

In contrast to the last couple years, the workload is significantly less, but I may dare to say that the learning experience has been significantly higher, at least in terms of practical learning. This experience has made the courts far less intimidating. I have learned what to do and what not to do from my own observations but also from the judges letting me know when a lawyer was effective or ineffective. I am enhancing my research experience by researching obscure issues that the judges rarely come across and sometimes from having to quickly find a case on point that they know is relevant but can’t quite remember the name. I am also learning the formalities of court, when the breaks are, when to bow, and who to make friends with. These are all things that I would learn at some point in my articling experience but now I already have and am hoping my first time in court will be a less terrifying experience. I know I will still mess up at some point but at least now I won’t mess up quite as badly, one would hope.

Ultimately, this is an experience that you can’t get again, unless you clerk, but even then, from what I hear, a clerking experience is more research and work focussed. The Externship program is very much focused on our education and ensuring that we spend time on not only research and writing but also watching court and learning from the judges and lawyers.

If this post has piqued your curiosity and you have anymore questions please feel free to send them my way, you can also email Sharon Sutherland, the program director, at The application deadline is February 15th, so get moving fast if you’re in second year!

Have fun reading this weekend, I think I’m going to go out now and enjoy the sunshine 🙂

~ Nikki