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Robson Hall exterior Fall 2019

Training family lawyers for today’s family needs

Inaugural Western Canada Family Law Negotiation Competition to address access to justice

February 27, 2020 — 

The Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba is pleased to host law students and coaches from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Saskatchewan for the Western Canada Family Law Negotiation Competition, March 6-7, 2020.

This inaugural competition will bring together members of the judiciary, family law practitioners, and faculty to work together to help train law students to be family law lawyers in the modern Canadian context. In family law, the access to justice crisis has propelled legislation and practice norms to move towards non-adversarial dispute resolution processes.

In Manitoba, it is now mandatory for some family law clients to engage in negotiation and/or mediation prior to involving the courts. As a result, lawyers are now required to build new skills, particularly in the areas of alternative dispute resolution processes. In addition to furthering substantial knowledge of family law, the competition will provide a means for law students to practice and improve their negotiating skills. The competition will simulate legal negotiations in which law students, acting as lawyers, negotiate a series of family law issues.

Law students will compete in teams of two.  Each team will negotiate with the opposing teams in three successive rounds of increasing complexity. The competition will be judged by various members of Manitoba’s judiciary and its senior family law practitioners.

“As Dean of Law I am very pleased that Robson Hall is hosting the inaugural Western Canada Family Law Negotiation Competition,” said Dr. Jonathan Black-Branch. “We at Robson Hall are undergoing an important transformation of our family law course offerings with externships, experiential learning and clinical practicum opportunities. This Moot represents a very important part of this transition and I am most grateful to Natasha Brown, Marcelin Murray and Justices Annette Horst and Kaye Dunlop, and all the organizers for their untiring support and commitment to this event.”

“We were all law students once, and we are delighted to now be in a position to share our experience and knowledge, and create opportunities for today’s students to become effective lawyers of tomorrow.” – Marcelin Murray, Fillmore Riley LLP

A total of 12 individuals have contributed countless hours to organizing this event. The committee includes members of the judiciary, lawyers and faculty from the competing schools.  Along with Natasha Brown, a family lawyer of 14 years and Director of Professional Practice and Externships at Robson Hall, the Manitoba members of the committee are Justices Annette Horst and Kaye Dunlop, and Marcelin Murray, a family law lawyer and partner at Fillmore Riley LLP.

“Speaking as a member of the family law bar, I would like to express how important it is to us to contribute to the training of the next generation of family law practitioners,” said Murray. “We were all law students once, and we are delighted to now be in a position to share our experience and knowledge, and create opportunities for today’s students to become effective lawyers of tomorrow.”

The competition itself will take place at the law offices of Fillmore Riley, LLP. Taylor McCaffrey LLP will be hosting a cocktail reception at their offices the evening before the event and a number of local firms have sponsored the formal Awards Dinner at ERA Bistro at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. These include Cochrane Saxberg, Duboff Edwards Haight & Schachter Levene Tadman Golub, Mercier & Associates, Mitousis, Lemieux Howard, Pitblado LLP, and Tapper Cuddy LLP.

“I am very excited and thankful to see so many members of our legal community come together to make this competition happen,” said Brown. “It’s so important to provide opportunities for law students to become exposed to family law work, not only to increase interest in a high-demand practice area but to see that family law can be practiced in a non-litigious way.”

Formerly, Western-based law students competed in the Ontario-based Walsh Family Law Moot & Negotiation Competition. Unfortunately, the organizers of Walsh Moot needed to restrict the competition to Ontario-based law schools for 2020.  Upon hearing this news, Deanne Sowter of the University of Toronto (formerly of the University of Calgary), and Michaela Keet of the University of Saskatchewan together with Brown, decided to reach out to local members of the family law bar and members of the judiciary to create a Western-based family law competition.

The organizers intend that the competition will rotate among different Western Canadian law schools in years to come.

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