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Tweeting before the courts

First ever twitter moot takes place next week

- February 16, 2012

Mooters Kristen Balcom (left) and Michele Charles, getting their tweets on. (Danny Abriel photo)
Mooters Kristen Balcom (left) and Michele Charles, getting their tweets on. (Danny Abriel photo)

Lawyers have a reputation for being a bit verbose, but that’s understandable: they work in a world of complex legalese, teasing out terminologies to persuade discerning judges and juries of their arguments’ worth.

Now, imagine doing that 140 characters at a time.

That’s what will be attempted next week in the world’s first ever Twitter moot. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, five teams of law students—including two representatives from the Schulich School of Law—will take to the popular social media tool and perform a mock appeal of a recent precedent-setting environmental law case in British Columbia.

“We didn’t realize it was going to be as big a deal when we volunteered, but it’s a really unique way of approaching the moot,” says second-year law student Michele Charles, one half of the team along with classmate Kristen Balcom.

Tweet v tweet

Moots are a key part of the law school experience: it’s in these mock appeals courts that students gain practical skills in oral advocacy. All Dal law students moot as part of the curriculum, but many of them seek out opportunities to take part in competitive moots as well.

Most moots are almost done in person, though. In contrast, the Twitter moot, which is being run by West Coast Environmental Law will be held entirely online, public for all the world to follow. Each team will have 10 minutes to make its case in 140-character tweets, using the hashtag #twtmoot in every update so that people who search Twitter for that code can follow the entire conversation.

During that 10 minutes, they’ll not only have to make their own lines of argument, but they’ll be expected to respond to three judges who will be asking questions to them through Twitter.

“That’s the part that’s going to be the most challenging,” says Ms. Balcom. “I’m not sure how the dynamic between us and the judges is going to be online. In a regular moot, you can see the judge, you can see the body language and hear their tone, see their reaction to your answers. It’s going to be very different.”

Making the case

The case they’ll be arguing is that of the West Moberly First Nations v. British Columbia. Last year, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld suspending a permit that would have allowed the First Coal Corporation to explore for oil in the habitat of a threatened caribou herd on the reserve.

Ms. Charles and Ms. Balcom will be arguing on behalf of First Coal in the Twitter moot. Their two issues they'll argue are whether the West Moberly’s right to hunt extends to this very specific herd of caribou, and whether the government’s consultation needed to take into account past wrongs done against the First Nation.

“When you come from an environmental background, you don’t feel a lot of sympathy for a giant coal company,” admits Ms. Charles, who is a member of the Environmental Law Student Society. “But you have to look at all sides in a moot, and there are some good arguments to be made in its favour.”

Expanding legal discussion

Given the readiness with which they joined a tweet-based moot, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Dal team were Twitter experts. Ms. Charles, though, has only been on Twitter since last summer, and confesses that she doesn’t use it all that much. And Ms. Balcom only joined two weeks ago, in preparation for the moot.

“I find it really interesting for news, and being connected with things that I’d never learn about otherwise, so it’s pretty cool,” she says. “But I’m not interested in tweeting about my personal activities.”

They’re excited about using it for mooting, though – and not just because there’s a $500 cash prize that’s up for grabs. They see it as a way to expand the boundaries of legal discussion.

“A lot of these big legal cases, especially aboriginal cases, nobody knows that they’re happening, outside of the really invested, like various environmental groups,” says Ms. Charles. “This [moot] is really bringing it to a level where the community can understand what’s going on and get engaged in a way they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. It’s a really neat way of approaching the concept.”

The Twitter Moot takes place Tuesday, Feb. 21 starting at 2 p.m. AST. Follow the discussion online at #twtmoot, or visit the moot's website for more information.


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