The experiential learning opportunities at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) are plenty, even amidst a pandemic.
“The SMCS Moot Court Competition is a perfect blend of critical thinking and experiential learning,” says Kevin Shaughnessy ’00, history teacher at SMCS, who has been involved in running the competition for the past 13 years. “It provides all Grade 12 law students an opportunity to actively engage and immerse themselves in the world of law, and offers insight into what an actual appeal hearing looks and feels like at the Ontario Court of Appeal.”
SMCS has been holding a Moot Court Competition every year for the past 17 years.
“In a typical year, as a unit culminating task, all Grade 12 law students are instructed in class on how to research, prepare, write, and submit a legal factum,” says Shaughnessy. “The students partner up in class, and as co-council they determine whether they want to argue and submit the law in favor of either the appellant or respondent position.”
Each group would then present their arguments in class in front of their teacher and classmates. The top two appellant and respondent groups would move to the semi-finals and then the championship after that.
“Usually, the students would submit their arguments in front of a panel of three judges who were familiar with their submitted factums, just like an actual Court of Appeal hearing,” says Shaughnessy. “The judges would always be ready with challenging and thought-provoking questions to afford the students an opportunity to further defend their respective legal positions. The panel of judges would then briefly deliberate to determine who the top advocate was and which team won the overall appeal.”
The topics for the moot court competitions are generated by the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), a not-for-profit organization that develops educational tools for introducing young people to the justice system.
MOOT COURT COMPETITION HEADS ONLINE
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition had to be adjusted to an online format.
“The students had already been working on their factums since the beginning of February and had a previously assigned due date for April 1,” he says. “Since they were unable to present in class, and given the time constraints, I had the students video record their respective presentations and legal submissions.”
“The competition changed in the way that we could not clarify if the judges had any questions as the arguments were pre-recorded, so making sure that there were no areas that could be open for questioning was key,” says Jake Laville ’20, a Grade 12 student.
“After grading and evaluating the video submissions, I decided to send the top four groups' video submissions, historically the semi-finalists, to the Honourable Justice Hugh O'Connell,” says Shaughnessy.
O’Connell evaluated the finalists “based on the strength of their arguments, understanding of the law, critical thinking and analysis, creativity, legal writing and language use, and legal citation,” he says.
"I looked at content, stylistic presentation, persuasion (‘the art of advocacy’) in coming to this conclusion,” says O’Connell in speaking to Shaughnessy following the competition. “I considered the juxtaposition of the law to the facts, both within the case pattern itself and in relation to the law relied upon. It is much easier to judge these moots in person with a panel, but of course that was not possible this year. I have done what is fair and with integrity."
THE JUDGE’S VERDICT
Every year, a top advocate is chosen in addition to the top team selected for winning the overall appeal.
This year’s top advocate is Edward Qu ’20 a graduating Grade 12 student and outgoing Student Government President. Qu’s name will be added to the Shaughnessy Cup and he will be awarded the St. Thomas More Legal Advocacy and Shaughnessy Family Award at graduation.
The Shaughnessy Family Award is in its second year, and is the financial prize awarded annually to the graduating student who has shown an aptitude for the study of law and for the various forms of advocacy practiced during the year. It was established by the late Honourable Justice Bryan Shaughnessy ’68, OSM.
“The biggest challenge was choosing an argument that was not too simplistic and one that would be strong enough to beat our opponents,” says Qu. “I overcame this issue by listing down every single possible argument and then arguing for those points and then defending against those points. I determined my argument based off which one I could more successfully argue.”
Qu says it was his knowledge of the case and his argument that helped him during the competition.
“It gave me confidence because I could present my argument without fail or worrying if it were strong enough,” he says. “I would have liked to actually present in front of a live audience and judges, but that was not possible.”
Ethan Bayfield ’20 and Laville were selected as this year’s top team with the best overall appeal. Their names will be added to the SMCS Moot Court finalist plaque.
“This experience gives students an amazing look into what it is like to argue a case and the careful processing and planning that goes into it,” says Laville. “For students like myself who are looking to possibly pursue a career in the legal field, the knowledge and experience that this competition provides is invaluable.”
“This competition brings the value of experience to student learning. It gives you a taste of what being a lawyer is like,” says Bayfield. “It is not just a PowerPoint presentation, or a speech. You need to create an in-depth argument to present to real-life judges, which is quite something, and shows you how you can improve on your public speaking skills going forward.”
“In addition to the obvious student benefits,” adds Shaughnessy. “I wanted to keep the Moot Court Competition going this year (and in the years to come) as a tribute to the legacy of my father, Justice Shaughnessy.”
“It was a great experience and an honour to have the judges select my team as the top presenting group,” adds Bayfield. “It was also a really great experience because the aspect of real-life judges being involved put pressure on us and forced us to do the best we could. This will serve us well in the future as it taught us how to deal with that pressure and produce great quality work, with the best-of-the-best critiquing us.”
“Winning this competition with my partner was an amazing way to cap off my six years at St. Mike’s and truly an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life,” says Laville.
Congratulations to all finalists for their hard work and effort in the first-ever virtual Moot Court Competition: Ethan Bayfield, Jake Laville, Edward Qu, Alex Annosantini ’20, Matthew Kirby ’20, Jacob Reynolds ’20, Andrew Shwec ’20, and Sam O'Brien ’20.