I think I can speak for myself and my partner, Calvin DeWolfe, in saying that the National Labour Arbitration Competition was the most valuable and rewarding experience of law school thus far. Hosted by Mathews Dinsdale in Toronto, the competition includes teams from eight law schools across Canada, and is a simulation of a grievance arbitration hearing before a tri-partite panel. Each team moots twice, presenting once as management counsel and once as union counsel, requiring students to develop a full 360-degree view of the issues.
This year’s fact scenario focused on a workplace sexual harassment grievance, and was released in mid-November. From that time on, we met weekly with our coaches Professor Bruce Archibald and Arbitrator Eric Slone throughout the first semester. Just one month out from the competition, we also met during the Christmas break to finalize our research and begin developing arguments. Although Cal and I shared championship aspirations, I think my goal for the competition at that point was likely to string together some coherent arguments and hopefully not make a fool of myself.
The practices increased in intensity and frequency during the month of January, and our arguments were finally coming together as the competition drew near. Thanks to sessions with lawyers at McInnes Cooper and Pink Larkin during the week leading up to the moot, Cal and I were hitting our stride and gaining more confidence with each rehearsal.
Mathews Dinsdale hosted a cocktail reception to open the weekend events on Friday evening, which allowed us to meet fellow student competitors and the lawyers from the firm. After the reception, Cal and I returned to the hotel to put the finishing touches on our arguments and have one final practice run-through. Our finishing touches may have even resulted in some larger changes at the eleventh hour, which involved switching one of our cases and printing seven copies of a Supreme Court of Canada judgment in the hotel lobby… (many thanks to the hotel receptionist for her help).
Our preparation proved to be worthwhile, as Cal and I felt confident through the preliminary round on Saturday. We first argued as management counsel at 10:00 am, facing the University of British Columbia. We had been told that this panel was known to frequently intervene, and we were certainly inundated with questions throughout our presentation. Managing to answer their questions while staying on track and within the allotted time was a balancing act, but we felt that we had succeeded in our delivery.
With just an hour break in between rounds, we presented our union arguments in our second moot against Queen’s University. If the first panel could be considered extremely interventionist, the second panel was at the opposite end of the spectrum and interjected only to ask clarification questions. We once again received positive feedback from the panel, but had no idea how we compared to other schools we had not seen.
That evening, all teams, coaches, and lawyers gathered for a dinner, with the announcement of finalists saved for the end. A few hours removed from the competition and its pressure, I was quite proud of our performance and knew I would be content regardless of the outcome. Nevertheless, we continued to receive positive feedback from Mathews Dinsdale lawyers, who told us there had been a buzz about the Dalhousie team in the event organizers’ room after our first moot.
Swiftly following dessert, it was announced that the finals would be a rematch and a battle of the coasts – Dalhousie vs UBC. UBC won the coin toss and elected to represent management, leaving us to argue as union counsel. The following minutes were a blur of congratulatory handshakes from students from opposing schools, lawyers, and panelists. Although Cal and I had occasionally mentioned how great it would feel to make the finals, I don’t think we could have anticipated the genuine enthusiasm from everyone involved.
While the other teams and lawyers remained at the restaurant to celebrate the competition, the finalists headed back to the hotel for preparation and an attempt at a good sleep. Confident in our arguments from earlier that day, we didn’t feel the need to make drastic changes this time.
I jolted awake at 5:00 the next morning, the excitement of making the finals now slightly wearing off and the nervous realization that I was about to present to Justice Malcom Rowe of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and the Chair of the Canada Industrial Relations Board setting in.
This panel’s style was more akin to the first interventionist panel we had faced, consistently pressing and questioning our arguments and those of UBC. Surprisingly, Justice Rowe almost immediately accepted Cal’s chief argument, despite the fact that we had allotted nearly 15 minutes to its discussion. This forced Cal to spend much of his time ad-libbing and conversing with the panel about issues they felt were more troublesome, which he did with ease.
At the conclusion of the arguments, the panel left the room to deliberate for what felt like an hour, but must have been only 20 minutes. When they returned, Justice Rowe spent time providing positive feedback and encouragement to each team. He then declared Dalhousie as the winner, stating that we were the team that had made the best of their position. The feelings of relief, disbelief, and excitement simultaneously washed over me, as Cal and I shared an enthusiastic handshake.
Returning to Halifax made our victory that much more thrilling, as we felt the entire Weldon community sharing in our excitement. The many e-mails from professors and congratulations from fellow students in class or the hallways exemplified the collegiality that sets Dal Law apart. Knowing that we are bringing this trophy back to Dalhousie and the Schulich School of Law for a record fifth time is a memorable bonus!