Behind the Scenes at AFCC-O’s Flagship Event, the Walsh Family Law Moot & Negotiation Competition
An Interview with Carolyn Leach, Committee Chair
What goes into planning this annual event? When do preparations begin?
There are many people involved with putting this together: a moot subcommittee, a negotiation competition subcommittee, a sponsorship subcommittee, and then a larger coordinating committee composed of the chairs of the subcommittees and myself. The event takes place in March each year, and we typically begin planning for the event in September. Over the fall, the work is focused on bringing together the committee and subcommittees, selecting the case for the moot, and developing the problem for the negotiation competition.
This year, however, we began work in the spring. By then, it was already pretty clear that we were unlikely to be able to host an in-person event due to Covid restrictions. We needed to begin thinking about how it could be adapted as a virtual event and what professional support we would need to get us there. Over the summer, we worked on finding a vendor to help us with the technological aspects of the now-virtual event, and then began planning in earnest in September. The coordinating committee has met every couple of weeks since September, and will now be meeting on a weekly basis until March 13.
When did the Walsh Family Law Moot & Negotiation Competition begin, and why?
The AFCC-O hosted the first Walsh Family Law Moot in 2013. While there were several mooting competitions available to law students at that time, none was focused on family law. patti cross, who was the driving force behind establishing the Walsh moot, saw the moot as an opportunity to promote family law as a career path for talented young lawyers – to respond to the real need for family lawyers in the province, especially outside the larger urban centres. She was soon joined by Steven Benmor in managing the event.
The competition was named after the late Justice George Walsh, to honour his contribution to the development of family law in Ontario (see the AFCC-O website Walsh page under “Events” for more details).
In 2015, the event expanded to include a negotiation competition, which was the brainchild of Justice Heather McGee and Justice Jennifer Mackinnon, brought into fruition by Tami Moscoe and Elizabeth Hyde.
Why did you want to get involved with this event?
I actually volunteered as a judge the first year that the moot took place. Appellate litigation was one of my favourite aspects of my practice at the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL), plus I have always enjoyed working with our law students. As well, I shared Patti’s view that Ontario needed more bright young family lawyers and I was happy to be part of initiative that would promote this area of law. So, this was a very appealing volunteer role. I jumped at the opportunity to take over from Justice Clay as committee chair of the event and have thoroughly enjoyed the role. The very hard-working and dedicated Walsh coordinating committee makes it easy, and their teams devote hours and hours of their time to make the event a success.
I have participated as a judge in both competitions (moot and negotiation) at various times over the years, and always felt that it was a terrific event. As a lawyer, it’s great to see firsthand, from the perspective of a judge, what works and doesn’t work when making submissions. I really think this aspect has helped me improve my own advocacy.
What are the highlights of being involved in this event?
The highlights for me every year are (1) being completely blown away by the talent and skill demonstrated by the students in both competitions; and (2) the sense of the family law community coming together to provide this opportunity for law students, whether by volunteering or by providing sponsorship funds, all in the name of improving the quality of our family law bar and providing better service to families and children experiencing separation and divorce.
What do you think the event does for students, and for those judging?
For students, it’s a fantastic opportunity to develop practical advocacy and negotiation skills that will serve them well, no matter what kind of practice they take up. It can also be an opportunity to connect with family lawyers, mediators, and judges.
Judges and other volunteers generally find it very rewarding to be part of the growth and development of law students, and enjoy that sense of joining with the broader family law community to make the Walsh a success. Also, for those looking for articling students, it’s a great way to check out the talent!
How has COVID-19 changed the event this year?
It’s pretty much turned it upside down. Normally, we kick off the event with a cocktail party for competitors, judges, volunteers, and sponsors, hosted by Epstein Cole. That obviously can’t happen given the Covid restrictions, so we are reconceptualizing it as a fun virtual event – details to follow in the coming weeks! The competitions themselves will proceed in the same format, although they will take place entirely via zoom. Due to the complexity of the event (we will have 30 separate Zoom break-out sessions to coordinate, plus judges and timekeepers to move around), we have hired a vendor to plan and execute the technical side of the event. The vendor has also created an online scoring system for us – no more running from room to room collecting scoring sheets and tallying up the scores!
Finally, the Walsh usually culminates in a wonderful luncheon and awards ceremony, which will be replaced by a more streamlined online event this year. It has been a challenge, for sure, but also quite fun to figure out how to make it work. Unfortunately, the new technological requirements have also meant that this year’s Walsh Event is going to be quite expensive to produce and host, so we are really counting on the generosity of our sponsors to pull this off. We’ve reconceptualized our sponsorship grid and have come up with some exciting new ways to promote our sponsors and recognize their support. It would be great to have some new sponsors come on board and become part of this event!