UVic students Tweet to test court skills

Law students from across Canada to argue case using social media

University of Victoria law students Matthew Nefstead and Jenn Cameron

It wasn’t long ago that Twitter was seen by many as a tool for basic communication, suitable only for simple, straightforward bursts of easy-to-digest information.

But as the number of users has increased, it’s clear the social media platform is more versatile than first realized.

Now that versatility is being tested in the form of a Twitter moot, which sees law students from across Canada taking the classic mock-court exercise – a moot – into the digital realm for the first time.

The challenge, of course, is whether the five student teams will be able to present clear and effective legal arguments despite being restricted by the 140-character maximum to which all tweets are limited.

“It forces us to be a lot more organized and concise with our arguments, to get our point across using a lot fewer words,” said Matthew Nefstead, a second-year law student at the University of Victoria.

Nefstead and third-year student Jenn Cameron are representing the Province of British Columbia as they tackle a simulated appeal of a recent court case, West Moberly First Nations v. British Columbia. Teams from the universities of British Columbia, Ottawa, York and Dalhousie will represent the Province of Alberta, the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, West Moberly First Nations and the First Coal Corporation, respectively.

“(The case) raises some very critical environmental issues, and ones that we thought would benefit from broader public discussion, said Andrew Gage, moot administrator and staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, which organized the event. “This allows us to reach a large audience that wouldn’t necessarily be following a moot.”

Each team will be given 10 minutes to present its arguments, during which time they can make as many tweets as they wish. Meanwhile, they will field questions from the moot’s three judges, also via Twitter.

“The ideal is each tweet makes a distinct point,” said Gage. “I don’t think everybody is going to be able to do that all the time. … It’s going to be interesting to see how the students use it.”

For Nefstead, it’s a chance to hone his legal advocacy skills.

“It’s definitely good practice. It’s also good to have the opportunity to interact with people from other schools and other lawyers.”

Cameron, who only started using Twitter herself in January, jumped at the chance to be a guinea pig in this legal experiment.

“It’s amazing what happens over Twitter,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing for West Coast (Environmental Law) to be using this piece of media that’s so important to everyone these days, especially young people. The court system is so old and based on such ancient traditions. I think it’s really neat to try and modernize it a bit.”

People who are interested in following the proceedings can follow @Twtmoot on Twitter, which will post all the participants’ tweets. Twitter users can also chime in by including the hashtag #twtmoot in their own comments. The moot starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Feb. 21).

reporter@vicnews.com