By Wesley G. Marshall, Commissioner
Thirty-some years ago the Worker’s Compensation Institute decided to demonstrate lawyer skills at the annual Worker’s Compensation Conference in Orlando. What began as a mock oral argument evolved into an annual tradition of live arguments of actual cases, heard by Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal.
A natural outgrowth of that process was the inspiration to conduct a moot court competition for area law schools, with focus on Worker’s Compensation legal issues. The hope was to recruit new attorneys to the practice through exposure to this community. We know several lawyers today who trace their practice to participation in this annual event.
In 2012, the National Association of Worker’s Compensation Judiciary was invited to become cosponsor of this event, which by then had been renamed the E. Earle Zehmer Moot Court Competition. The renaming was in honor of the Florida First District Court of Appeal judge by that name who was instrumental in the fostering of this competition.
Legend has it that the competition began with teams primarily within driving distance. It was an era when Florida had only three law schools (Florida, Florida State, and Miami). Teams came also from Georgia. As Florida’s legal community grew, so grew the volume of teams. But, with the involvement of the NAWCJ, the volume of teams expanded notably, including teams from states such as Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and more.
In 2020, the competition was slated to host over 30 teams. Then COVID came to call. The world in large part turned upside down. Worker’s Compensation systems were challenged. Judges were forced to learn new skills and software. And, the annual competition was postponed along with the conference.
That announcement could’ve been met with a variety of emotions. The moot court committee instead met that announcement with renewed determination for 2021. As the weeks have morphed into months, the committee has refocused attention upon integrating the newly acquired virtual skills. A variety of other moot court competitions have proceeded amidst the pandemic, leveraging the power of virtual appearance on various Internet platforms.
In December, the Moot Court Committee gathered in Tallahassee to glean advice and encouragement from the Florida State University School of Law Moot Court Team. We were fortunate to have the benefit of their experiences in some of those recent virtual competitions. The conclusion is that the Zehmer competition will strive to exceed 40 teams in 2021. Preliminary rounds will be held on a weekend in November using virtual technology on the Internet. We will soon be actively recruiting Worker’s Compensation commissioners and adjudicators to participate as preliminary round judges. It is contemplated that these preliminary rounds will conclude in time for finalists to make travel plans to be present in Orlando for the Worker’s Compensation Institute conference the second week of December 2021.
Will the pandemic be over? Well the real question is whether we will proceed through its adversity regardless and persevere? The answer to the first question I do not know. The answer to the second question an equivocal yes! Stay tuned to the Lex and Verum for more on this exciting project and your opportunity to play an important role in the development of today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders.
For more information, contact Wesley G. Marshall at Wesley.Marshall@workcomp.virginia.gov.