A real ‘stitch-up’

Late November saw the inaugural final of the Michelsberg Debating Competition, involving junior lawyers from across Leeds and sponsored by a local bespoke tailor.  Representing Pinsent Masons were Maria Akbani (gap year student) and Victoria McClintock (trainee solicitor), this blog is their account of how they got on.

[Maria] I first heard about the debating competition when an email was sent round saying one of the other trainees had been forced to drop out the competition as they were going on secondment to a client, and I was eager to get involved.  At school I played an active role in the debating society and I wanted to continue with my debating before going to university next year.  The Michelsberg Debating Competition is a competition for junior lawyers in Leeds; taking part were 14 pairs of trainees from firms such as Addleshaw Goddard, DWF, Eversheds, Irwin Mitchell and Walker Morris.

In preparation, both Victoria and I had been reading newspapers and researching issues that we thought could provoke debate e.g. the spending review, university fees and legal aid. We had also met earlier on in the week to discuss how we would plan our preparation time and how we would work best as a pair given we had never debated together before.

Early Exchanges

[Victoria] The first round was held at the BPP Law School.  We were competing against three other law firms and the motion was “This house believes that parents should be jailed for the crimes of their children”.

Maria and I brought different experience to the team – Maria being a former member of her school debating society, and me being a public speaker and participant in university moots.  The debates were in the format of the British Parliamentary debates, meaning that the motion was not revealed until 20 minutes before we were due to speak.  This was undoubtedly the most challenging element of the debate.

The draw saw us as the second proposition team.  This meant that another firm, also arguing for the proposition side, had already spoken on the motion for a lengthy time, before we were due to debate.  We were required to think of new arguments and comment further on those policies already suggested.  Our strategy?  To focus on rebutting the opposition’s comments and to state our points with clarity and conviction.  We  also had to make sure we didn’t contradict the points made by the other propisition team, something known as ‘stabbing’ in debating terminology.

Both Maria and I had spent weeks honing our commercial awareness and memorising statistics, certain that the motion would be a current news story.  When it wasn’t, we had to think on our feet and think fast!  Despite this, our efforts were not wasted and it seemed that the preparation had put us in the right mind-set for debating – we even managed to tie in some public spending cut statistics!

[Maria] Having battled it out against the three other firms, we were delighted when we were announced as the winners.  Our judges (James Bourne Ashton of St Pauls Chambers, Khadim Al’ Hassan of No.6 chambers, and Stephen Levett of the College of Law, York) commented particularly on how important it is to remain involved in a debate with points of information and how structure is very useful in order to present articulately.

The Final Reckoning…

[Victoria] The final came round much quicker than we expected, and on the 30 November 2010 we found ourselves at the Malmaison Hotel, waiting nervously for the motion to be announced.

Again, Maria and I were the second proposition team and this time the motion was “This house believes that there will always be the poor”.  A daunting topic, I am sure you will agree, especially when told which viewpoint to argue it from.  However, we delivered some strong arguments and had plenty of interaction with the judges.  We responded to various points of information (challenges from the other side) and rebutted many an opposition comment.   Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, DWF were declared the winners.

All in all, the competition was a fantastic experience; a great addition to the CV and more importantly, an opportunity to gain some invaluable communication and presentational skills.  We congratulated the deserved winners and said our good-byes.  I am sure we will see them for round two next year…