Arguing their way to an international prize

by Sylvain Comeau

"When I first walked in, I remember wondering, 'Will I forget everything?'" says Phillippe Dufresne.

"They were excellent." says law professor René Provost. "I used to coach a team at Oxford, and last year I was a judge at another competition. This team is the best I've ever seen."

Both Dufresne and Provost, not to mention much of the Faculty of Law, are talking about the twin coup by four second-year McGill Law students. In a single week last month, Dufresne, Carl Chastenay, Patrick Ferland and Guylène Le Clair, coached by Provost, won both the Concours Rousseau Moot Competition in Brussels and a "Super Final" at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which pitted them against the University of Leiden (Netherlands), winners of the Telders Moot Competition. The Super Final was a one-time event, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and the International Court itself.

The Rousseau and Telders are two of the most prestigious and difficult mooting competitions in the world; McGill prevailed at the Rousseau against teams from the Universities of Paris, Geneva and Neuchâtel.

An Australian team won the other major international mooting competition, the Jessup, and were invited to compete for the Super Final, but couldn't appear because of scheduling problems.

"McGill would have beaten them, too, if they had been able to make it," asserts Provost with complete conviction. "It's too bad they couldn't come and get what they deserved."

Judging from the blood, sweat and tears they poured into the events, members of the McGill team got exactly what they deserve. McGill libraries became their home away from home in the months preceding the Rousseau.

"Toward the end, we were sleeping in the library, in our sleeping bags between the stacks of books," says Le Clair. "I don't think we'll work as hard on preparing for our bar exams," Dufresne adds.

The team was given a lightened course load--and a hard-earned three credits--to ease the strain. Although they put in countless hours, it was often hard to know when to call it a day.

"We won, so I guess we were well prepared, but you can always do just a little more," says Le Clair. "We always felt like we should do a few more hours each week."

The team was acutely aware that they would be facing tough competition, made up of fourth- or fifth-year students specializing in international law. Teams had to take sides on an international issue, a land and water dispute between two fictional nations, Royaume des Thartal-Akrems and Republique du Karham-Elmu. Representing the good people of Karham-Elmu, the McGill side particularly impressed the judges with their versatility, according to Provost.

"We teach our students both common and civil law at the same time, which creates very flexible legal minds. Everyone also seemed to be impressed that they could answer English questions in English and French questions in French. At one point, one of them switched from English to French in the middle of his speech, and there was a sigh of awe in the audience."

Dufresne says that the judges also cited McGill's evenhanded teamwork in explaining their unanimous decision.

"They mentioned that we were a very equal team--everyone spoke approximately the same amount of time, and we would follow up on each other's points. Other teams had members who specialized in a particular area and who spoke more than the others."

The achievement marks the second straight McGill win at the Rousseau. Another group of students will take up the challenge next year, since team members aren't allowed to compete twice. Le Clair laughs and says this is not a hardship. "The experience was well worth it; we learned so much. But one year of sacrifice is enough!"

Any advice for next year's team, who will try to keep the string going?

"They must never lose hope," Dufresne offers. "Sometimes they'll get the feeling that the work will never end, but they should just keep going, and keep in mind that the Rousseau is a friendly competition."

"It can get discouraging," Le Clair agrees, "because every time you think you found the answer, you find out that there is no single, clear-cut answer. They can get through it if they work as a team."