The DLA Piper Nottingham Open 2015, organised by the Nottingham Debating Union, took place on the 28th Feb-1st March in Portland Building, University Park Campus. Debating competitions normally have four or five rounds, with a different ‘motion’ set for each one which teams have fifteen minutes to prepare for. Teams are comprised of two speakers that universities throughout the UK – and the world! – send in the hopes of competing to reach the ‘out-rounds’ (the semi-finals and final). At an Open competition, teams can be made up of speakers from different universities compared to IV competitions where speakers are institutionally representative.
Each speaker gives a five or seven-minute speech, depending on the competition, defending their side of the motion (which is allocated when the topic is announced) as well as questioning previous speakers. This may sound terrifying for those who find speaking in public difficult, but rest assured that practice does make perfect. In fact, debating is one of the best ways to actively force yourself to improve your confidence; it is a skill essential to any law career!
The motion set by the Chief Adjudicators at the competition which was most relatable to a law student was ‘This House Would Allow Courts to enforce Ulysses Contracts’. Ulysses contracts are those that involve only one party binding themselves to future actions. Some examples include: someone stipulating that they must pay a fine to the state if they don’t achieve a life goal (e.g. quitting smoking/achieving a degree) or to give surplus future earnings to charity. This motion was intended to make participants think about the philosophical ramifications of your past self essentially binding your future self, which ‘self’ had the most legitimacy to do so and how the law would function in this area.
Other motions discussed topics such as sex education in the USA, a shared currency for the African Union and legalising polygamous marriage. The final was won by a composite team of experienced debaters, who brought compelling analysis as to why Barack Obama should have made more of an issue of his race during his presidency, as not doing this told minorities that even the most powerful man in the land had to play by the majority’s rules and the perception was that he did not really care about their issues.
For law students, debating is a very worthwhile pastime as the range of topics covered is extremely wide. This leads to a much improved general knowledge which can impress at commercial law interviews and develop that mythical skill of commercial awareness which occurs through debating economic and business-themed motions. Comparatively, the skills of rhetoric, analysis and thinking quickly on your feet stand you in very good stead for a career at the Bar. Five of the six debaters who entered the European Universities Debating Championship 2014 were law students, notably the A team who advanced as far as the Semi-Finals! They were accompanied by a judge who was also a fellow lawyer.
However, beyond careers, debating is an exceptionally enjoyable hobby. There are opportunities to travel throughout the country to attend competitions, almost every weekend if you wish to, which take place at different universities. They are a brilliant way to visit friends, make new ones and get away from the textbooks for a while! The Nottingham Debating Union holds training sessions every Wednesday where the rules of BP-style (British Parliamentary) debating are taught, with specific focuses on key rhetorical skills and a practice debate at the end. Furthermore, they also hold regular socials which are always great fun, laidback and well-attended. If you want to enhance your CV, try out a new hobby or make friends with like-minded people, come along and give debating a try!