58th Harrison Shield goes virtual | Faculty News | Spring 2020 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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58th Harrison Shield goes virtual

In mid-September, second-year students Aaron Connolly, Lucas Savini, Matthew Smith, and Alden Spencer competed in the 58th edition of The Hon. William Henry Harrison Moot Court Competition. This year’s competition was unlike any other in the storied history of the moot. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the moot was hosted through Zoom, with three mooters presenting virtually from the Mary Louise Lynch room at the law school, one presenting from Toronto, and a panel of judges joining remotely from across the country.

Counsel for the appellant (Savini and Spencer) and counsel for the respondent (Connolly and Smith) engaged with a legal problem based on the 2020 SCC case of Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller. Heller examines the arbitration agreement between Uber and its drivers who subscribe to Uber’s ride or delivery-origination software. Mr. Heller entered into a standard form contract with Uber which included an arbitration clause requiring any legal issues to be resolved by arbitration in the Netherlands. The case examines the question of unconscionability of the arbitration clause.

All four students gave exceptional performances, arguing their positions in front of an all-star panel of judges including of Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, The Hon. Tracey DeWare (LLB ’94), The Hon. Justice Kathleen Quigg (LLB ’89) of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and The Hon. Thomas Cromwell, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. After lengthy deliberation, the 2020 Harrison Shield was awarded Alden Spencer and Lucas Savini for their outstanding oral advocacy skills.

“I am very humbled to have received this award, especially with Lucas—it really rounded out our mooting experience together,” said Spencer. “Looking at the Shield with all the great people on it, it’s an honour to be listed amongst them. It’s something I will hold with pride for the rest of my life!”

The panel of judges was very impressed with the preparedness of the mooters and the quality of their advocacy.

“The mooters presented their arguments with determination while maintaining a respectful attitude toward the court,” said Justice Cromwell. “I was much encouraged about the future of our profession as a result of having the chance to see these young lawyers in action.”

Justice Quigg, for whom this was her third time participating in the Harrison, echoes Justice Cromwell’s thoughts, adding, “all four students were quick on their feet with their responses. I cannot imagine mooting before a former Supreme Court of Canada Justice in my second year of law school! All students were calm, measured in their presentations, as well as their responses.”

For respondent Aaron Connolly, it was a great learning experience to navigate difficult questions from the panel.

“We were provided with an opportunity to get a true sense of what is expected during appellate level litigation. I learned that most of the allotted speaking time is spent answering questions. In the future, I will spend less time formulating a scripted submission and will instead focus more on anticipating questions and formulating answers to these questions that get directly to the key determining issue(s) in the given case.”

Adapting to a virtual courtroom

Savini enjoyed the virtual experience and felt the solution worked.

“I found it natural. If anything, mooting virtually is easier, as you can ensure the environment is void of distractions. In interacting with the judges, I now have a much better understanding of how demanding advocacy is in appellate level courts. It was a great opportunity to learn how judges at the highest levels of the profession think.”

For Smith, the most difficult aspect of the virtual moot was losing some ability to read the body language of the panel.

“It was more difficult to get the cues from the bench that guide you. In-person, it’s easier to see how a judge is reacting—if they’re writing anything, if they look like they disagree or agree with you, or if they’re bored. If you’re astute to this, you can adjust your argument, tone, or speed to sway their reactions.”

Justice Quigg sees the importance of law students learning to adapt to virtual platforms in place of physical courtrooms.

“When COVID-19 hit our province, everyone had to adapt quickly as restrictions were put in place respecting access to the courthouses. In our Court, most motions and appeals proceeded by telephone if the parties agreed to do so. Luckily most did. Later, in June, before the Atlantic Bubble, we had lawyers from outside of the province who participated by video. I certainly can foresee today’s law students participating in the court process virtually in the future.”

While Justice Cromwell does not consider the virtual solution a substitute for the personal interaction of in-person oral argument, he does foresee a shift in thinking regarding virtual courtrooms. 

“I expect that our experience borne of necessity will change the way we think about conducting hearings long after the dangers of COVID-19 are passed. The time and expense of travel can be major considerations in favour of greater use of virtual platforms, not to mention the convenience of being able to participate from the convenience of one’s office without having to transport a lot of materials, etc. Given that the virtual platform doesn’t require a physical setting, it also allows for greater flexibility of scheduling.”

“Today’s law students have the benefit of developing their skills of virtual advocacy in real-time,” adds Chief Justice DeWare. “as this becomes not simply an exceptional event, but rather a daily occurrence.”

Congratulations to all participants, and thanks to Professor Basil Alexander and Maya Hamou for their tireless work in preparing these students for the competition. We also thank Professors Kerri Froc and Jane Thomson, co-chairs of the Moot Committee, for their hard work in organizing the 58th edition of the Harrison Moot, as well as our judges for helping deliver an unparalleled learning experience during a difficult time. We are also grateful for the assistance of Ed Bowes, UNB Law’s Public Engagement Officer, David Anderson, our Program Support Officer, and Kelsie Lockyer, our Technology Assistant.

Visit the UNB Law YouTube channel to view the moot in its entirety. 

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