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Caribou, Coal Mining and the world’s First Twitter Moot Court

5 March, 2012

For an hour or so on February 21st the most talked about issue on Twitter in Canada was an event about caribou, coal mining and Aboriginal Rights.  I’m guessing that that’s a first in the history of Twitter.  West Coast Environmental Law also had more hits on our website in a single day than we had ever had before – by quite a bit.

And the Twitter Moot winners were...

Moot Champions: Team Osgoode
People's Choice Award: Team UVic

West Coast congratulates Team Osgoode (Nicole Petersen and Emelia Baack - sponsored by Saxe Law) and Team UVic – ( Matthew Nefstead and Jenn Cameron - sponsored by Skunkworks Creative Group) for winning the Twitter Moot.  And congrats to all the teams and the judges for making this a successful event!

Many were scratching their heads when they heard that West Coast was running the “World’s First-ever Twitter Moot.

Say what?  What’s that, and how does it relate to the environment?  Just what are you trying to accomplish?

What is a Twitter Moot anyhow?

A Moot Court is a simulated court, which gives law students or lawyers a chance to show their stuff.  In the words of our infographic: “Basically, it’s a make-believe court for lawyers and law students.”  And in the case of our Twitter Moot Court, it was all done entirely over Twitter. 

Naturally, West Coast’s Twitter Moot Court was hearing a case about environmental law, West Moberly First Nations v. British Columbia, involving a mine proposal in endangered caribou habitat within the West Moberly territory.  This was a real, precedent-setting case which West Coast has posted alerts about before and which we funded through our Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.  The BC Court of Appeal ruling confirmed that the government could not give the go-ahead to a mining company to do exploratory drilling in the habitat of an endangered caribou herd without first consulting a First Nation – in this case the West Moberly First Nations – who didn’t want the mine and wanted to see the herd restored.

So what did West Coast get out of it?

This is the first time ever that we (or anyone else) has held this type of event, and we learned a lot from doing it.  Although we’ll change a few things next time (and there will be a next time), we achieved a number of things through our Twitter Moot. 

  • Discussed legal issues surrounding endangered species and Aboriginal Law with a new audience;
  • Invited future lawyers to think about public interest environmental law; and
  • Raised funds for our work to protect the environment through the law. 

A new audience

Did I mention that at one point more people were discussing our Twitter Moot than any other issue in Canada (we were the “trending topic” in the country)?  Almost 1,000 people watched the event through our website, and we believe that a larger number followed the event over Twitter.  Our best guess is that we had an audience of about 4,000.

A venue that is usually dominated by discussion of #tellvictoewseverything and #justinbieber actually saw a detailed (if rapid and at times confusing) discussion about whether mining should go ahead in the habitat of the Burnt Pine caribou herd.  Read the exciting transcript of the event here

Doubtless many of the people who watched had never heard of a Moot before, let alone a Twitter Moot, but probably at least as many had never thought about what it takes to drive a caribou herd to near extinction, and what that does to the culture of a First Nation that once hunted those animals for sustenance thus wants to ensure they are protected for future generations. 

And it’s not just the people who actually watched the Moot – it’s also the people who watched us on CTV National News, heard us on CKNW, or read about our event in the Vancouver Sun and the National Post (which listed us as one of the top 5 things to watch in the country), as well as other blogs and newspapers.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the impact of reaching several thousand people, many of whom are not our usual suspects.  Educating the public about environmental law issues is key to West Coast’s mandate, and by any standard this was a major accomplishment. 

Future lawyers

Part of West Coast Environmental Law’s mandate is to encourage lawyers to take on environmental law files and to develop skills that allow them to represent environmental law clients. 

The Twitter Moot had 10 law students from five different law schools across the country participate.  Many of these students were interested in environmental law and might one day consider a career in environmental law.  Other students will have read about us in publications aimed at lawyers and law students, including Canadian Lawyer Magazine and the American Bar Association Journal.  But equally importantly, we had students from other law schools expressing the hope that they might be able to compete in next year’s Twitter Moot.

Megan Stoker ‏ @mvs_13
Disappointed no #UofClaw team in first ever Twitter moot! #twtmoot Hopefully next year

@WCELaw @mvs_13 unfortunately #UofClaw will have to compete next year for a space. We've already been making big plans for #twtmoot 2013! ;)

And we heard loud and clear from the students who did participate that they saw this as a way to develop their skills and their interest in environmental and Aboriginal law files.  Comments from some of the students include:

[A] wonderful experience, and I feel it will only gain momentum as you continue to put them on.

I think you should definitely do a twitter moot again, it was really fun and interesting to participate in. A lot of my friends in law school were following us, which is so different than a regular moot! Also as I'm sure you know, it brings a lot of attention to the case being mooted. Certainly an excellent platform to bring public attention to important social and environmental issues.

Thank you for organizing such an amazing event! I hope this takes off and i hope it has generated enough buzz for WCEL! ... [W]e really, really enjoyed it.

We believe that at least some of the Twitter Moot participants of today will be the public interest environmental lawyers of tomorrow.

Sponsorship opportunities

Those of you who checked out the Twitter Moot pages will have seen the logos of our sponsors prominently displayed on the right hand side of the screen.  Several law firms and associated businesses were willing to take a gamble on our World’s First Ever Twitter Moot – a gamble that that paid off, as it was even bigger then we hoped it might be.  The Twitter Moot allows West Coast Environmental Law to offer broad visibility for sponsors in a unique and innovative way and we thank all the sponsors of the World’s First Ever Twitter Moot for being part of history! 

Our Twitter Moot Sponsors are: Gold: Law Foundation of British Columbia (as our sustaining sponsor); Silver: Donovan & Company; Iler Campbell LLP; McCarthy Tetrault LLP; Miller Thomson LLP; Ng Ariss Fong, Lawyers; Saxe Law Office; Skunkworks Creative Group; Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP; Bronze: Inc..

So what do you think?

Did you watch the Twitter Moot?  Or perhaps you read through the event transcript?  Based on the feedback we’ve had so far we’re already planning the second annual Twitter Moot, but we’d love your feedback.  What worked, and what didn’t, in the Twitter Moot 2012?  What could we do to make it better for 2013?  What would make you more likely to watch the future event?  Tell us in the comments section below.

By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer