Judges help to improve advocacy in BC courtrooms

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For the past 20 years the Provincial Court of BC has been a strong champion of a unique workshop offering lawyers honest, personalized feedback on their courtroom work from judges and senior counsel. In July, BC lawyers will once again have the chance to practise their skills on their feet in a real courtroom and improve them with guidance from experienced colleagues and judges.

The Continuing Legal Education Society of BC (CLEBC) will present its 20th Annual Winning Advocacy Skills Workshop at the BC Provincial Court in Vancouver from July 4-6, 2019. As they have done for the past 20 years, BC Provincial Court judges will volunteer their time to act as faculty and encourage lawyers to hone their skills and contribute to a high standard of advocacy in BC’s courtrooms.

The contribution of Provincial Court judges has been invaluable to the success of this program. CLE Program Lawyer Teresa Sheward says, “Provincial Court judges bring a wealth of trial experience to share with workshop participants. Their experience with shorter trials is particularly beneficial as they help lawyers conduct concise examinations and deliver succinct submissions effectively.”

In fact, more than 30 Provincial Court judges have given their time to teach this workshop in the last two decades, many of them for several years. Some began their involvement when they were lawyers and continued after being appointed to the bench. Chief Judges Hugh Stansfield, Thomas Crabtree, Melissa Gillespie and Acting Chief Judge James Threlfall all participated.

Of the current sitting judges, 19 have participated in this program, either during their tenure as a judge or before. This year’s roster includes Chief Judge Gillespie, Regional Administrative Judge Carmen Rogers (for the 4th time, and 3rd time as a Team Leader), and Judges Reginald Harris and Karen Whonnock.

Judge Adrian Brooks holds the record – he served as faculty at the first Winning Advocacy Skills Workshop in 2000 before his appointment to the bench, and returned nine times over 15 years. See the complete list of Provincial Court volunteers in the last 20 years.

Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie, says “The entire justice system benefits from having competent lawyers conducting trials in our courts. By focusing on real issues, preparing well, and avoiding time-wasting mistakes they enable a court to work both effectively and efficiently. As both a lawyer and a judge I’ve been happy to share my experience and help lawyers who are working to improve their skills.”

Judge Reginald Harris, who will participate for the second time this year, adds, "The workshop is a safe environment where lawyers learn to be great advocates without exposing their clients to any risk. I am honoured to be able to contribute and help lawyers sharpen and improve their litigation skills. I see my involvement as a great opportunity to contribute to the quality of justice by helping others be the best that they can be. "

CLEBC Program Lawyer Genevieve Chang describes this year’s workshop in a message to lawyers:

“At the three-day workshop July 4 – 6, 2019 over ten judges and numerous senior counsel will provide the ultimate mentoring experience, helping you elevate your advocacy skills in a relaxed, safe environment. You will refine your skills within a practical, hands-on framework. This is a rare chance to experiment and make mistakes without cost to your client or reputation.”

Under the leadership of workshop chairs Madam Justice Catherine A. Murray and Andrew I. Nathanson, and the guidance of distinguished judges and lawyers acting as team leaders and guest instructors, you will:

• work through a civil and criminal fact pattern and case materials, completing advocacy performance exercises in a small group led by a senior litigator team leader
• experience the intellectual, ethical, emotional, and physical demands of trial by performing multiple and repeated direct examination, cross-examination, opening, and closing exercises in a mock courtroom setting
• receive real-time critiques regarding each of your performance exercises from team leaders and guest instructors
• be video-recorded for two of your performance exercises
• receive individual attention and personalized, constructive feedback during one-on-one sessions with a senior member of the bench or bar who will review your video-recorded performances with you
• watch live demonstrations of trial advocacy skills performed by experienced faculty
• act as a witness for other student performances to understand the witness experience at trial
• have the opportunity to understand the perspective from the bench
• dramatically improve your craft in a short time!

The feedback from lawyers who have participated in this workshop has been resoundingly positive and is a testament to the value of this experience:

“My sincere thanks and congratulations for putting on such a fantastically helpful workshop this past week. That the focus of this workshop remained steadily on the students’ learning and experiential needs, while also acknowledging the skills and time put in by the volunteers and staff, made for a really supportive environment in which to challenge ourselves.

“Great course! In my practice I have very few opportunities to examine witnesses, so this was an invaluable experience to improve my skills.”

“Demonstrations by senior counsel really helped to provide guidance and to set the stage!”

“To be honest, I had my doubts when I registered for this workshop, but now I believe this is one of the best CLEBC courses and workshops that I've attended!”

If you are a civil or criminal litigator, or want to be, join CLEBC for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance your courtroom skills and confidence. They say there is no substitute for experience… but this is it! For more information or to register, visit http://www.cle.bc.ca/1650. Bursaries are available for qualified applicants.”