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Society blog

21 Feb 18

Scottish Legal International comes to fruition

Joint initiative aims to promote Scottish profession internationally

30 Aug 17

A paralegal's tale

Janet Rieu-Clarke, the Law Society’s accredited paralegal, explains the path that led her to new role at the Society and the rationale behind the new accredited paralegal status.

30 Aug 17

A call to vote from John Scott

John Scott QC urges his fellow solicitor advocates to vote for their dedicated representative

29 Aug 17

No globalisation without representation...

Katie Hay discusses the globalisation of the legal market and urges Scottish solicitors working internationally, to get involved

24 Jul 17

Bringing the world to "world-class"

Sarah Sutton, digital communications executive at the Law Society of Scotland, talks about her bright idea to ensure international representation on the Society’s Council

26 Jun 17

The Debate - backstage, front of house and top tips

In this mini-series of blogs, three key players in the Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament share their individual perspectives of the event.

19 Jun 17

Got a passion for the profession?

Could one of the 23 current vacancies for 16 different committees be just right for you?

28 Apr 17

Professional Practice - advising the advisers

Scottish solicitors help their clients through some of the most momentous occasions of their lives, personal or professional, good or bad. But where do solicitors turn for support? Prof Prac, that's where.

1 Nov 16

How getting involved in debating can change your life

Head of education Rob Marrs explains how getting involved in debating, whether as competitor or judge, can be incredibly rewarding. And more importantly, he explains how to win a debate.

14 Oct 16

Career development and volunteering at the Law Society of Scotland

If you want to enhance your career, develop your skills or just give back to your profession, there are lots of different personal and professional development opportunities at the Society

Society Blog

How getting involved in debating can change your life

1 Nov 16

Head of education Rob Marrs explains how getting involved in debating, whether as competitor or judge, can be incredibly rewarding. And more importantly, he explains how to win a debate.

Each November something rather magical happens.

In school libraries across Scotland, teams from differing schools come together to debate about a contentious topic. They are judged by lawyers and law students who are fueled by coffee and a few Bourbon biscuits.

The crowds are usually pretty sparse. At most there will be a few parents, a timekeeper and occasionally a keen younger pupil or two.

This might not seem very much. It might seem quite ordinary.

For the pupils involved, though, the experience will be a mix of the nerve-jangling, thrilling and potentially life-changing. A young person can find their voice, career choices may open up, and a lifetime of civic engagement may be sparked. That’s pretty huge. It can be hugely rewarding for judges too. If you are interested then please sign up here.

I admit I’m biased. Once upon a time I was a debater. Not a hugely successful one in terms of trophies won, but it isn’t always about that. I recognise that getting involved in debating changed my life. That decision in first year of university to attend the debating society helped me make friends from around the world, gave me the opportunity to travel to three continents, and made me think about the world in different ways. I’m not unique in this regard. I’m entirely typical.

How do you win?

So, for those pupils who are about to take part in the competition: how do you win?

A good starting point is being clear in your own arguments. What are you trying to say? Many debaters get bogged down in detail, statistics and examples. They complicate and confuse matters. They throw shadows into the air. The very best debaters explain difficult concepts well. A good rule of thumb is: can someone with no prior knowledge of the subject at hand understand your argument?

The difference between a good public speaker and a good debater is the latter’s ability to respond well to the other side through in-speech rebuttal or via points of information. That really is the skill of being able to listen very carefully to the other side. How can you respond to them if you haven’t been listening to what they’ve said?

If the opposing side makes a series of arguments that you need to rebut in your speech always focus on their most important point. Don’t nitpick or focus on trivialities. Don’t avoid their arguments. Don’t try and steer it back to what you want to say. Take them on, head on. If you defeat them on the big ticket items, you win.

I read an article recently which said that: "a persuasive – albeit counterintuitive – debate tactic is taking the most charitable interpretation of an opponent’s position and demonstrating why – even under that interpretation – their view is mistaken". It is very good advice.

It’s not like writing an essay

Debating, unlike public speaking, isn’t trading essays. No debating judge wants to listen to a prepared script. Many debaters are tied to their notes and read out entire speeches. Whilst I understand moving away from notes can be scary, it is necessary. Debaters need to be light on their feet and sometimes you need to be able to deviate from your planned speech.

Reading notes usually inhibits your speaking style, as you are looking down and mumbling whereas the audience and judges want to be persuaded.

So find your own style – one that suits you. There is no one style that wins debates, no one style that is persuasive. Look at politics. The only thing that links William Hague, Mhairi Black, Dominic Grieve, Tommy Shepherd, Ruth Davidson, Hilary Benn and the late Charles Kennedy is that they have all shone in political debate. Their styles could not have been more different.

Embrace your own style and practise it

If you are naturally funny, then use humour. If you are not naturally funny, then don’t try to force jokes. If you are naturally a tub-thumping speaker, embrace it. If you are more analytical and understated when speaking, that too can be hugely effective. Be yourself. Speak from the heart. It is a debate. If you don’t win, then there’s always next time.

And if you don’t win? Get better. The best way to get better is to practise. Watch other people debating, judge debates in your school debating society, take part in competitions, do training exercises and games. All of these help debaters improve their technique.

When you compete, make sure you always ask for feedback from the judges. Remember that feedback is only useful if you carefully consider it and apply the lessons learned. You might not agree with it but ultimately the judge’s call matters more than your opinion.

Debrief with your team-mates after a debate – whether you win or lose. What went well? How could you have spoken better? How could your partner have spoken better? Were there any things you missed? What did the judges say to each of you?

The competition is named in honour of Donald Dewar – a formidable student debater, a solicitor, and a politician who changed Scotland and the UK forever. Once upon a time he was the young debater who was nervous before a debate. So don’t be worried about the butterflies in your stomach. Everyone gets them. Enjoy it, give it your best shot and from all here at the Law Society of Scotland, the very best of luck.

Find out more about the 2016/17 Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament at

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Blog archive

3 Dec 18

A turbulent Christmas

Depressing divisions and a lack of clear thinking dominate the Brexit scene. But (stop press) there is something positive in the official reaction to the legal aid review

7 Nov 18

Put to the test

The Society's position as regulator will come under renewed scrutiny following the Roberton report, but the report itself should equally be subjected to proper scrutiny

9 Oct 18

Under siege

After the extra money announced for prosecutors and then the police, something has to be done now for the defence sector

10 Sep 18

Programme for action?

How much can we expect to happen through the Scottish Government's Programme for Government?

6 Aug 18

No deal, no say?

The arguments for a second EU referendum apply with greater force in a "no deal" scenario

9 Jul 18

System under threat

Items in this month's issue illustrate increasing threats to the rule of law and the integrity of the legal system

11 Jun 18

Speaking out

The benefit sanctions system has drawn some unusually sharp comments from the Society, but the need for such strictures is likely to increase

8 May 18

After Windrush

The treatment of those of Caribbean origin shows a need for the law to be rebalanced

9 Apr 18

Mind the gap

Do the Gender Pay Gap Regulations provide enough useful information to justify their approach?

12 Mar 18

Case to be made

If the independent legal aid review could not find evidence to support a general rise in fees, what should the response be?