A panel of judges at the Oshawa Small Claims Court handed down a different type of verdict recently and declared a team of Sheridan Paralegal students winners of the second-annual Mock Trial Cup. Competing against their peers from six similar programs at public colleges across Ontario the team from Sheridan faced some stiff competition, but their strong teamwork and communication skills led them to victory.
Preparation for the event began weeks in advance with coaches and faculty members Gargi Mukherji and Netta Romano, who is also the Paralegal Program Coordinator, selecting seven students for their roster from a list of applicants. For two hours a week over eight weeks the students and coaches met to review, research and develop arguments for the mock trial case presented to them: a contractor suing a customer for an unpaid kitchen renovation job.
“It was a professional environment: real judges in a real courtroom and the procedural elements were strictly enforced. It was great experience before getting out in the field” – Rabia Mir
One of the team members who took home an award for Best Advocate at the conclusion of the event was second-year Paralegal student Rabia Mir. She relished the opportunity to apply her skills and knowledge in an authentic setting. “The Mock Trial Cup was the culmination of two years of mock trials and tribunal hearings in class,” she explains. “It was a professional environment: real judges in a real courtroom and the procedural elements were strictly enforced. It was great experience before getting out in the field.”
In true tournament fashion teams faced off against each other before the judge made a ruling and the winning team moved one step closer to hoisting the Mock Trial Cup trophy. At the start of each round a member from each team drew from a hat to see if they would be playing the role of the plaintiff or defendant. Teams decided in advance who would be responsible for opening arguments, cross-examination, closing arguments and playing the role of witnesses.
Arguing a case in front of a group of veteran judges before a courtroom of your peers, opponents and onlookers is sure to be nerve-wracking but the Sheridan team remained confident and relied on their hours of preparation. Mir, who has years of public speaking experience under her belt, had rehearsed her arguments in front of her family and thought endlessly of counter-arguments that might poke holes in the case. “Thinking well on your feet comes with practice,” she says. “And that learning and development doesn’t end at graduation,” adds Romano.
Regulated in Ontario in 2007, paralegals are considered an emerging profession. “Many people think that paralegals are lawyer’s assistants when in fact they can often advocate for people in place of a lawyer in Small Claims Court or at the Human Right Tribunal,” Romano explains. The responsibility afforded to paralegals in the legal community means that access to justice is improved for those that can’t afford a lawyer and may not understand legal proceedings. The ability to help others and provide a voice to people were motivating factors for Mir to enter this field of study.
“Many people think that paralegals are lawyer’s assistants when in fact they can often advocate for people in place of a lawyer in Small Claims Court or at the Human Right Tribunal” – Netta Romano
As many of the Sheridan Mock Trial team members prepare for their final weeks in the program on field placements, they are still buzzing with excitement over the big win. “It is a memorable experience for us,” says Mir. “Our professors were extremely supportive in the process and knowing that we learned a lot and did well at it helps build our confidence.”
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Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.