Chinese Sweatshops, Tigers and The Beatles; A Tailor-Made Victory

As a cold, dark and dreary November rolled to a close Corporate trainee Tom Woodhead and Projects & Construction gap year student Sairish Tahir sat burning the midnight oil, cramming all things current affairs and practising their verbal sparring so as not to bring eternal shame to the Pinsent Masons name at the annual Michelsberg Debating Competition.The debating competition saw 16 pairs of trainee lawyers in and around the Leeds area, from firms such as Eversheds, Ford & Warren, DLA and Addleshaw Goddard, meet for qualifying rounds in a British Parliamentary-style debate before the winners of each of the four separate debate were to meet for the bloodbath – I mean, final – held at the lovely Malmaison Hotel in Leeds.As a gap year student, fresh out of school and armed with little-to-none legal knowledge, to be selected to represent the firm was quite daunting, but to going up against trainee solicitors with at least 6 years of life and legal experience on me was positively nerve-wracking.  Still, I threw my hat into the ring, grasping desperately onto the lessons learnt from an active debating career at school (no swearing, no threatening and definitely no Hitler comparisons).

PM's winning strategy revealed

The very structure of a BP debate meant that we were given 20 minutes to prepare a 7 minute speech ad lib on surprise motions such as ‘This house would buy local’ and deliver them convincingly enough to win over our judges and outwit the opposition.  The first round proved to be fast-paced, tense and controversial at times, but I believe the deal-clincher was definitely when my brilliant partner Tom, stood up and demanded, “I mean, honestly – are Chinese sweatshops really that bad?” and managed to convince all those present – judges and other teams alike – that such efficiency was the way forward for 2012.  As we left, slightly dazed and stupefied by the whole experience, it was a great feeling to be told that it was unanimously decided upon that Pinsent Masons would be going to the final.The competition itself definitely proved to be a good opportunity to get in some under-pressure thinking and delivery in what was, in the final at least, quite a hostile environment.  After a few minutes of complete panic upon being told the motion for the final would be, ‘This house would rather be East than West’ and weeks of research on the Eurozone crisis and middle eastern conflicts flying out of our heads, we collected ourselves and prepared our game faces for the carnage to ensue. Judges for the night included Andrew Stubbs QC (St Pauls Chambers), David Parkin (Founder of, Adam Roney, winner of last year’s event (Calls9 and ex-Eversheds) and of course James Michelsberg, Tailoring Legend.  Both Tom and I appreciated the strong PM presence there to intimidate the opposition support us.  Moments of blood (the refusal of the opposition to stay sitting when we refused to take their points of information), sweat (when you realise the arguments you’ve prepared have all been stolen before you get to your feet) and tears (when someone decides that a debate on the merits of the East and West should focus on the Pennines and Beatles vs. Arctic Monkeys), were abound.  Dealing with judges who were, at times, more partisan than an impartial arbitrator probably added to the melee, particularly when they threw you points of information which you couldn’t really dismiss.However, there was no doubt that we were up against the cream of the crop from each of the firms, Ford & Warren, Eversheds and Clarion and the level of debating was definitely a step-up from the after school Thursday sessions with tea and biscuits that I had been accustomed to.  Being crowned ‘Best Team’ therefore meant that no one was more surprised at our victory than us, as the teams were strong and on another night or on a different subject mater we may well have walked away empty-handed.Upon reflection, I would definitely urge trainees and future gap year students to get involved for the experience.  It was a perfect platform to hone one’s rhetoric and communication skills, and display them to some very big names out there in the legal world.  The judges were very helpful and friendly, staying behind after the rounds for feedback, exchanging of cards, a quick chat and even a few offers for work experience! Being called a “tiger” by Andrew Stubbs QC however, was not so helpful when it stuck and led to awkward moments in the lifts at work, when being greeted, “morning, tiger” by members of staff.  We were both glad that the hard work paid off though and in this case, it was the winning, and not just the taking part that counted!Sairish