Case studies: Judges

Law Society members share their experience of volunteering as judges for the Donald Dewar Memorial Debating Tournament.

Stephen Waclawski, Associate at BTO solicitors

What made you volunteer to become a debating tournament judge in the first instance?

I remember how much I enjoyed debating at school.  Our school competitions were organised by our History teacher.  I thought about how much of his own personal time he must have devoted to those competitions.  I won't lie, I was terrified doing those first debates, but I also got a lot out of them.  Thinking back, a lot of the skills I learned have helped me with my career in litigation.  I volunteered so that others could benefit from the same experience.

How long have you been a judge for the tournament?

I judged my first debate in 2014.

Why do you enjoy it?

I enjoy listening to the debates as they are always on interesting topics.  It's incredible how well informed the competitors are!  I also think it's important to support initiatives like this one, which encourage children to develop confidence in public speaking and in putting forward evidence based argument.

What has been the highlight so far?

The final last year.  Even the floor questions were impressive, to say nothing of the speakers themselves!

What makes a good debating team?

As I have only seen two of the debates, it's difficult for me to say.  My impression was that the most successful teams were well prepared.  They knew what their position was in detail and had evidence in the form of examples and statistics to support the points they wished to make.  The best pairs worked well as a team, referring to one another's arguments and the responses made to points of interest.  They were able to use their preparations in a fluid way to respond to the questions asked and the other side's position.  Above all, they were able to hold their nerve when they came under pressure from the audience and the other side.

What would you say to someone who's thinking of volunteering to be a judge in next year's tournament?

Do it!

To register as a judge in the 2015/16 debates, click here

Craig Kennedy, Associate at Maclay Murray & Spens LLP

What made you volunteer to become a debating tournament judge in the first instance?

I was invited to become a judge by a friend who works at the Law Society of Scotland.

How long have you been a judge for the tournament?

Three years.

Why do you enjoy it?

It is an excellent opportunity to witness some of the talent that exists in high schools around the country for public speaking.  Several of the pupils who take part are interested in pursuing a career in law and it is gratifying to be able to offer practical guidance and insight to aspiring lawyers.

What has been the highlight so far?

The exceptionally high quality of all of the speakers I have witnessed in my capacity as a judge.  The quality and delivery of material is generally of a very high standard and many of the speakers have a natural ability to deliver persuasive arguments in an entertaining fashion.

What makes a good debating team?

A team that is willing to engage in the debate.  The most successful teams take issue with their opponent's position by highlighting flaws or inconsistencies and offering reasons why their position should be preferred.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of volunteering to be a judge in next year's tournament?

It is an excellent opportunity to offer support, encouragement and guidance to very able public speakers.  It is also likely that you will be entertained (and enlightened) by some of the debates that you will see!

To register as a judge in the 2015/16 debates, click here