Montreal law firm Robinson Sheppard Shapiro S.E.N.C.R.L. has donated more than $230,000 to the law faculties of McGill University and the Université de Montréal in honour of the firm’s 90th anniversary.
Each school will receive roughly $115,000 from the firm’s endowment fund, which will allocate a certain amount each year to help pay for moot competitions.
Daniel Jutras, dean of law at McGill, and Gilles Trudeau, dean of law at UdeM, say their schools are in need of additional funds to cover the costs for students to compete in these competitions.
Universities are facing restricted budgets, Jutras adds, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find financial support to participate in moot competitions. McGill attends eight to 10 moot competitions every year but the faculty has to be selective in which moots it chooses because it can’t afford to send students to all of them.
“Some of [the moot competitions] are very valuable,” says Jutras. “We want to keep our students participating in these because they develop all sorts of valuable skills, from oral advocacy to advanced research skills to strategic planning of litigation.”
Charles Flam, managing partner and CEO of RSS, says the firm decided to support moot competitions because it’s a great learning experience for students and there’s also a potential benefit to the firm.
“We feel our future depends on being able to recruit high-calibre students and so just the fact that we’re providing funds which will allow students to participate in this type of competition, it increases the learning experience at the university and that’s of interest to us,” he says. “Hopefully some of the ones who might win these competitions will end up as lawyers at our firm.”
And, Flam says, “we like the idea of having the funds being used for student activities as opposed to simply giving a bursary where students would receive a scholarship.”
Established in 1921, RSS is a mid-sized firm with 73 lawyers and well known in Quebec for its litigation practice. The firm chose to donate to McGill and UdeM because the majority of its lawyers are alumni, some of whom made their own contributions to the donation.
“Our initial intention was to give $90,000; $45,000 to each of the two law faculties,” says Flam. “And then we decided to ask if the individual lawyers in our firm who were graduates from these two law faculties were interested in making additional donations. And so they were, and we were really quite astonished at the extent to which this was possible.”
Flam, Jutras, and Trudeau agree that the practical experience students get from competing in moot competitions is a crucial component of legal education.
“[Moot competitions give students] a good appreciation of what happens in real life in the profession, where you have an adversary and you prepare, and you argue the validity of points you’re advancing,” says Flam.
“I think it’s a great learning experience. It’s been our experience during the recruiting process over the years that those who successfully participated in these type of competitions exhibited characteristics which made them better prepared to practise law and that they had acquired skills which might take some time to learn inside a law firm.”
Jutras adds: “We think that moot competitions of this nature are very helpful in preparing students for life as professionals, whether or not actually they intend to practise as lawyers, there’s still great opportunities for students to develop critical thinking and problem solving and oral communication . . . and the funds make it possible for us to stay in the game.”