An Interview With Ben Johnson and Yassir Al-Naji: Robson Hall’s 2018 MacIntyre Cup Winners
Ben Johnson (BK) and Yassir Al-Naji (YA) are third year law students who recently won the MacIntyre Cup, which is Western Canada’s criminal law Trial Moot. Later this month they will represent Robson Hall at the coveted Sopinka Cup in Ottawa. In this interview, Robson Crim Student Editor Kasia Kieloch (KK) speaks to the winners about the experience of competing in this moot and what they learned.
KK: Congratulations on winning the MacIntyre Cup. That’s a great accomplishment. I was wondering if you could tell me about how you qualified for the competition?
BJ: In second year every 2L (second year law) student does the Introduction to Advocacy class and they go through trials based on one of these former Sopinka Cup problems. From that, eight people get chosen to compete in the Solomon Greenberg moot competition in November of their third year. From that, generally two people go ahead and compete in the MacIntyre Cup. This year, the University of Manitoba was hosting so four people went ahead and competed in the MacIntyre Cup against six other schools in Western Canada.
KK: How did you prepare for the competitions?
BJ: Practice. Lots and lots of practice.
YA: For the first competition you’re sort of left to your own devices. You don’t really have any direct one-on-one coaching. It’s sort of a function of what you learn in the Advocacy course that you apply to the moot that you do. Once you’re selected from the Advocacy moot, each team is given an individual coach. So if you’re on the defence side of the problem you’re given a defence lawyer practitioner in Winnipeg who works alongside you and your partner and basically coaches you throughout the competition, and that’s essentially all of the coaching that you get for the first two competitions.
The second one is definitely way more involved in terms of interaction with the coach and you’re getting way more guidance. For the first one the substance of what you’re saying isn’t what they are looking at. They’re more looking at your advocacy and your style. Sure, context and content are important, but I think what the most important thing is your ability to advocate in a courtroom setting that’s being gauged by the judges.
KK: For the Solomon Greenberg competition you had a coach. Did you have any other coaches or professors that worked with you for the next level (the MacIntyre Cup)?
BJ: At the MacIntyre level we had Judy Kliewer from Public Prosecutions (Canada) and Judge Timothy Killeen.
KK: You’re moving on to the next round of competition, and are those same coaches going to be working with you, or is there anyone else?
YA: Judge Killeen couldn’t continue working with us due to other obligations, so Judge Raymond Wyant stepped in and he’ll be helping us moving forward. So it is Judy Kliewer and Judge Wyant who are helping us moving forward to the Sopinka Cup.
KK: Looking back on your performance at the previous levels of competition, is there anything that you would have done differently? Obviously you have done very well so far, you won (the MacIntyre Cup), but is there anything that you think you can do differently going into the next level of competition?
YA: Definitely. I think at each stage you learn what you don’t know and it’s quite a bit. In the Advocacy competition you think everything goes well and you’re selected and you think you sort of have it figured out, and then you go to Solomon and your coach tells you that you know nothing and that everything you’re doing is way off. So you kind of work to adjust and fix that, and then when you move on you’re kind of given a new approach based on who your coach is. Because, again, it is very stylistic. Different practitioners, different coaches have different ways of doing things and they’re going to try to, I guess, instill that in you and you take what is good from each coach and what you think will help you develop and you kind of apply that moving forward. I know my basic style didn’t really change too much, but I guess certain courtroom etiquette and different things you say or you wouldn’t say definitely. I’ve learned a lot in terms of what I’d be saying in court.
BJ: I think also your confidence in your abilities evolve and adapt and change and you become better since the Introduction to Advocacy course. So you’re able to respond to a witness better, you’re able to make up a new question on the fly if something changes much more so than you were six or eight months ago.
KK: Do you have a specific type of strategy that you’re taking into the next level of competition?
BJ: I think that our strategy would be to be prepared. Always be prepared and be the best that we can be.
YA: A specific strategy, that’s a good question. I don’t think our specific strategy changes much. It is definitely different because in the MacIntyre Cup we mooted as the defence, for the accused. Now we are the prosecution. So I think definitely it is a paradigm shift for how we need to change our thinking. In terms of strategy I think we just got to put her behinds bars.
KK: My last question is how do you think that the mooting skills that you have learned, or your advocacy skills, will apply to your careers in law?
BJ: I think this was an exceptionally great exercise. I think this is one of the most, if not the most, important thing I’ve done in law school, and I’m tremendously grateful for having the opportunity to do it. I think it’s just tremendous.
YA: I completely agree. I think the experience has been invaluable. I did the Davies moot in second year and that was an amazing experience because it is securities related, so it is more corporate commercial, which is sort of where I’ll be going into. Ben and I have a good contrast in that he is going to the doing federal prosecutions work and I’m going to be at a big corporate commercial firm and I’m not going to be doing much courtroom work. But I still think that the experience that you learn and just being able to advocate teaches you invaluable skills as a lawyer and whether you’re in the courtroom or not, at the end of the day you have clients and your job is to advance your client’s interests, and if you are able to do that at a high level, I think you’re going to find success in any field. How it’s going to apply in my personal work- I mean that’s yet to be seen, but I think that the skills that you learn are definitely applicable in a wide range of practice areas.
BJ: I completely agree.