Winning the Bowman: Hard work, teamwork – and a sense of fun!
Manitoba law students’ solid team effort secured National Tax Moot triumph
The University of Manitoba Faculty of Law team has won the Donald G.H. Bowman National Tax Moot, a first for the law school in the moot’s 11-year history. “This was truly a team effort,” said Jill Klassen, who together with her teammate Johanna Thiessen, advanced to the moot’s final round as the Respondent team and were ultimately pronounced the winners of the competition.
“However, we say the WHOLE team won because we could not have gotten this far without the rest of our teammates,” Klassen emphasised. “We were constantly bouncing ideas off each other in our group chatting, sharing cases and other resources we thought would be helpful for the other side, and providing feedback on each other’s arguments.”
The Bowman Tax Moot, presented by Dentons, is a competitive moot on taxation law wherein students compete over two days in two preliminary rounds, semi-finals, and finals before a panel of three judges. This year was the second year the moot took place virtually. This didn’t seem to bother the Manitoba team of Respondents Klassen (3L) and Thiessen (2L), and Appellants Alisen Kotyk (2L) and Melanie Benedict (3L), and researcher Alexander Barnes (3L) who were afforded the freedom to “scream and yell” with excitement on their own separate video call running parallel to the official competition video conference.
The team was coached by Professor Darcy MacPherson, Alex Favreau (Fillmore Riley), and David Silver (Department of Justice Canada), who spent countless hours running the team members through their paces and ultimately having them practice their arguments in front of around 20 lawyers from the Manitoba bar.
According to Barnes, “this year’s moot problem consisted of a hypothetical appeal of the real-life Tax Court case of Agracity Ltd v The Queen, 2020 TCC 91. The legal issues included the doctrine of sham and the transfer pricing provisions found in s. 247(2) of the Income Tax Act.”
NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
While Benedict, Barnes and Klassen had all taken Tax law before participating in the moot, Thiessen and Kotyk were only just taking the class this term. “Surprisingly, taking tax was not a requirement for this moot,” Klassen explained. “However,” she added, “the introductory course was not super helpful in the moot as [the moot] focused on some high-level international tax issues that are not addressed in the introductory course,” which, said Klassen, did help with understanding general tax theory and concepts.
Meanwhile, Benedict took both the Income and Corporate tax courses offered at Robson Hall, “but can’t say I did really well in Corporate Tax which is most pertinent to this moot,” she admitted.
While Klassen was the only team member with any previous mooting experience, having participated in the Laskin moot last year, Thiessen had never mooted before. As a practical learner, however, Thiessen found it to be one of the most valuable learning experiences for putting theory into practice. “Being able to collaborate and work in a team was a privilege,” she said. “In doing so I met some of the most wonderful individuals. I would recommend mooting to anyone. It gives you a chance to be on a little stage before you are on the big stage. It’s hard work but it’s worth it!”
Benedict likewise had not presented any kind of oral argument since the advocacy unit in the mandatory first-year class, Legal Methods. “This would have been my last chance to participate in a moot,” she said. Soon to graduate and start her articles in Ontario this summer, Benedict is completing her JD in four years, but cautions lower-year students not to hesitate. “I actually regret not try out in my 2L and 3L years.”
“I really loved the entire experience,” Benedict added. “It is by far one of my favorite experiences in law school. I would encourage everyone to at least try to moot even if they personally think they wouldn’t be “chosen”. You never know until you try and the entire experience is worth putting yourself out there!”
“Mooting has been incredible,” said Kotyk. “There is no better way to get this kind of practical experience in law school. I understand that students can be put off by the time commitment a moot requires, and to be sure it is significant. That being said, do it anyway. I cannot endorse it enough.”
The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime. – Babe Ruth, baseball legend
Hard work combined with a strong collaborative approach and a sense of fun were the modus operandi for the team.
Because Klassen and Benedict shared such well-written statements of facts about their respective mooting experiences, we’ll conclude this argument in favour of doing a moot during law school, with a brief factum from each:
Melanie Benedict for the Appellant Team
GIVE IT A TRY
For me personally, mooting was something I never had the confidence to try for earlier in my law school career. And I didn’t think I would enjoy litigation, certainly not tax! But this year I decided to just throw myself out there and luckily this opportunity was offered.
YOU’LL BE SURPRISED
I honestly LOVED it. I was on the Appellant side, which I picked mainly because I have experience working for government and I thought I may be able to make interesting arguments. I didn’t realize how true that would be until we got the case problem. To say it was an uphill battle for my portion of the issue, and the Appellant side in general, is an understatement. None of the law or facts were on our side.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
The coaches and teams were beyond helpful. I think the coaches, our Researcher Alex Barnes, and the four of us worked so effectively as a team. The four of us and Alex had a Facebook group chat going and I don’t think there wasn’t a day that we weren’t bouncing ideas or bantering back and forth.
We finally put together the factum and then our practice moots started with lawyers from the community. I cannot put into words how nervous I was about having to answer questions. I have such basic understanding about tax and what do I really know, right? But every practice, answering tough questions and having to defend my position and arguments made me that much more confident for the actual moot. And here again the team made all the difference. We would discuss how to answer better, or bounce off ideas, or offer suggestions.
I think the key this year was how much everyone got along. Everyone was incredibly supportive, collegial, and encouraging. It was hard at times but someone was always there to answer a nervous late night email, or FB message, or frantic Zoom call. I really think it made all the difference.
On a personal basis, I gained so much confidence in myself and felt satisfied with how my partner, Alisen, and I mooted at the competition. We felt composed and professional. I don’t think we had one question we couldn’t answer. And that performance speaks for all the work we put in as a team.
Also, our Researcher Alex was beyond invaluable. The amount of ideas he gave us, or was willing to answer questions or act as a sounding board, in addition to his research was incredibly helpful.
I would also give a lot of credit to the coaches. They supported us as a team but also never put unrealistic expectations on us. We knew from the beginning that this was a learning experience and that we could take it as far as we wanted. And that it wasn’t about winning or losing, but the valuable experience we would gain from mooting.
Jill Klassen for the Respondent Team
WRITING IS NOT EASY
The factum writing process was NOT easy, especially for those of the team members who has never written a factum before. It was a grind right to the very end to get it organized, edited and within the 20-page limit.
PRACTICE IS GRUELLING
Then the practices came, and this too, was another grueling, but also very fun time…. What I loved about the practices is that they really helped you work out the kinks in your arguments or make you realize which arguments are your strongest and which are your weakest. I remember when I participated in a moot last year, I was always nervous right before our practices, but this year I rarely felt nervous. I think this spoke to the preparation and hard work that Johanna and I put in before and after each and every practice.
COMPETITION – COMPLETE SHOCK
Now to the actual competition. Each two-person team presented their submissions twice during the preliminary rounds. During these rounds we went before Toronto tax lawyers, Justices of the Tax Court of Canada, and Justices of the Federal Court of Appeal. After the preliminary rounds they would add up your oral scores form the preliminary rounds and combine it with the score that was given to your factum. Based on these scores, the top two appellant teams and top two respondent teams advanced to the semi-finals.
I remember sitting on a Zoom call with my team and our coaches waiting for the announcement. I remember joking around and asking if I could crack a beer yet, as I was convinced that Jo and I would not be advancing. As a side note, the reason why we all thought this is because U of M typically does not advance in the oral rounds.
However, when they made the announcement and our coach David Silver said the respondents are moving on, Jo and I were in complete shock. However, once this initial shock wore off, I remember screaming and jumping around my room in excitement.
There was not a lot of time for celebrating as we only had around 10 minutes to prepare for the semi-final round. In the semis we went before a panel for three Tax Court Justices, and I’m not going to lie I was a bit intimidated. I am not an expert in tax law, but these Justices are.
After our semi-final round both Jo and I felt pretty good, but we really were not sure if we did enough to advance. Once again, we joined our team on a Zoom call and waited for the announcement. About 25-30 minutes later, once again to our surprise, we had advanced to the finals.
I remember our coaches telling us that they were so proud of us for making it as far as we did, and whatever happened in the finals would not take away from that. I also remember Jo being like, I don’t know if I can do this, I am so exhausted.
I just said to her let’s go into the finals and just have fun, we know our arguments well and that is all that matters. Plus, we would be going before three Federal Court of Appeal Justices, which we may never get to do again so let’s just enjoy the experience. That is exactly what we did, and I honestly think it was our best round yet.
After the finals we had to wait until the awards ceremony for our results. Once again, our coaches reiterated that no matter what the results were, they were proud of us. The ceremony happened via Zoom, however, the four of us [mooters] had our own video chat going during it so that we could celebrate together if Jo and I won. When Justice Woods announced that the best team was the University of Manitoba, we all screamed and yelled together.
Winning the Bowman Tax Moot is one of my greatest achievements to date and I am so proud of Johanna and I for getting here. I could not have asked for a better partner.