Award-winning performances at Sopinka and McKelvey Cup

Author: Ed Bowes

Posted on Mar 23, 2022

Category: Alumni

Photo (left to right): Mark Browne, Alden Spencer, Jane Thomson, Raylene Mackey, and Duncan Wallace

The all-Newfoundland team of Mark Browne (2L) and Alden Spencer (3L), finished in third place at the 2022 Sopinka Cup moot. The Sopinka is the preeminent trial advocacy competition that sees the eight regional winners battle for the top spot in the nation annually.

In addition to this impressive team result, Mark Browne was awarded Best Opening and Best Overall Advocate by the judging panel.

“It’s a humbling recognition,” said Browne, “one I was not expecting given the high calibre of competitors from across Canada. Justice Jamal of the SCC gave a speech at the closing reception; he cited a quote, ‘the best cases are not won in the oral argument, they are won at the library.’ We all worked very hard as we approached this moot, so that line resonated with me.”

The UNB team is comprised of 4 students. Teammates Raylene Mackey (3L) and Duncan Wallace (2L) were instrumental in the team’s overall success, providing materials and support throughout Browne and Spencer’s preparation for the Sopinka.

Coach Prof. Thomson was impressed by the student’s willingness to work extremely hard, take a great deal of constructive criticism and consistently improve and innovate.

“This moot requires a lot of work and dedication; it also requires resilience and the ability to bounce back when something goes wrong. It requires street smarts, common sense, and quick thinking. Snacks are also a big help given the length of our practices.”

The road to the national competition

In late February, the team secured their spot in the national competition by winning the Eastern Canadian regional round, the McKelvey Cup, defeating Schulich Law and Université de Moncton. This was the first time in 20 years that UNB Law students achieved this honour. In addition to the top prize, UNB won a slew of awards; Browne won Best Opening, Best Cross-examination, and Best Overall Advocate, while Spencer won for Best Direct Examination. This is the second year in a row that team UNB nearly swept all awards.

For Browne, getting to share this experience with fellow islanders made it all the more meaningful.

“This is probably one of the most satisfying parts of the win, that four Newfoundlanders & Labradorians were the ones to bring this home to UNB after two decades. We are natural storytellers, but without the artful skills we learned in Trial Advocacy with Jim Lockyer and from Prof. Thomson, our natural abilities would not be enough. Combined, though, they proved to be a great combination.”

Teammate Alden Spencer added, “The most surreal part of the entire experience is that Mark and I have known each other since childhood. We grew up in the same small town in rural Newfoundland and Labrador—Marystown—only a few years apart. As the only two kids from Marystown in law school right now, it’s incredible to be the ones to break that 20-year record.”

The award-winning team is coached by Professor Jane Thomson. A requirement of the moot was that all participants take Trial Advocacy in the fall, which was taught by Jim Lockyer (LLB ’75). In this class students learn, among other things, the art of the cross and direct examination, and crafting an effective—and memorable—opening and closing statement.

“I attribute our success first and foremost to bringing Jim on board to teach trial advocacy to our students,” said Prof. Thomson. “The first year he came to the school to give a couple of talks. The second year he came and gave intensive lessons to our mooters. This year he taught the fall trial advocacy course. I hope he continues to help us with this for as long as he can!”

Dean Marin believes the faculty is beyond lucky to have such a skilled alumni support the McKelvey/Sopinka effort.

“Prof. Lockyer has had a truly amazing career,” said Dean Marin. “He is a world-renowned expert in trial advocacy. Having him bring his expertise back to our law school has played a huge role in our growing success at the McKelvey/Sopinka. We have a lot to thank him for.”

Prof. Thomson is the mooting coordinator for the faculty, overseeing the process from start to finish. In addition to her McKelvey/Sopinka coaching duties, she is responsible for determining which moots will be prioritized by the faculty, the recruitment of coaches, and training, including organizing appellant advocacy workshops. She also coordinates and runs UNB’s annual in-house moot, the Harrison Shield.

Prof. Thomson formalized this approach to mooting in 2017. Under her leadership—and with the support of the many faculty members who coach—this approach has resulted in consistent high-quality performances and greater results year-over-year.

“We have created a culture of excellence around mooting at UNB,” said Dean Marin. “Competitive mooting is something we aspire to, something that we can succeed at, and something that we expect to do well in—we expect to win prizes and competitions. This culture very much comes from this formal structure that Prof. Thomson has established and leads.”

When asked how she felt to see the team win the McKelvey and place 3rd in the country, Prof. Thomson replied: “Surreal. But not surprising given the caliber of our mooters. Next year we’re going to win it.”

Congratulations to the 2022 McKelvey/Sopinka Team.