Importance Of Debating Skills For Law Students

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This article was written by Sanya Rastogi, a student of National law school Odisha.


“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”

One thing the world desperately needs is a better way of conducting debates, it being a political one or controversial one. It is very important to re-discover the lost art of debating, irrespective of the social or political situation, one belongs in, especially for law students, as they have to enter into healthy amount of debates and therefore having proper debating skills become an essential part of their legal life. A debate is healthy when both parties argue to moot each other’s personal opinion on certain facts or ideas. If the debating parties try to manipulate each other’s mind with their ideas, then the debate becomes the worst kind of disputation. We can get many intellectual ideas out of arguments and debate if the points are analyzed with a rational mind and debated in good humour. Debate has been for long revered as one of the greatest forms of institutions made by man If we look at all the arguments we have on health care, over same sex marriages, over affirmative discriminations, what we often under look are the big questions of justice and moral convictions or philosophies lying at the surface of such arguments. Most of the arguments we indulge in rarely includes the articulation or defence of the big moral questions associated with the matte in dispute.

Debating Skills And Its Need For Law Student:

Lawyers perform a broad range of different tasks and work in a number of different sub-specialties, each of which requires different skills.  Thus, describing someone as a “lawyer” is rather like describing her as “in medicine;” just as the skills required to staff an emergency room (e.g. grace under pressure) may differ from those needed in radiology (e.g. attention to detail), the skills required of a trial lawyer who frequently appears in court will differ totally from those needed by a corporate lawyer executing securities offerings, or the GC of a startup.[1]
That said, whether you are negotiating a contract, defending a client in court, or putting out fires on behalf of a young business, the ability to articulate your client’s position in a succinct and persuasive manner is always helpful.  While that ability doesn’t necessarily run alongside an affinity for or skill at debate–some of the best lawyers I know are pretty conflict-avoidant–good debaters nearly always have or develop this skill by the very nature of debate.  So while being good at debate may indicate that you possess a skill that would help you make a good lawyer, you don’t have to be good at debate to possess that skill, or to be a good lawyer.[2]

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, raised these questions of justice and morality. It is his idea to involve the moral principles and justice while we argue about questions today. According to his theory of justice, Justice means giving people what they deserve. But the real question should begin when we argue about who deserves what and why. In a legal field or for that matter in any field, a discussion on controversial or political topics is something which is inevitable. For a law student, it becomes imperative to develop the art of arguing, making Aristotle’s idea central to our arguments.[3]

Jurisprudence Schools And The Art of Debating:

The concept of justice and moral convictions not only helps a law student during her/his law school in dealing with political and controversial topics but also throughout the legal career. When a law student takes a step towards the real picture, she/he will have to tackle various challenges, whether in the capacity of a lawyer or a judge, which may be emotional, physical, mental, psychological, societal or philosophical. All these challenges will throw the obligation on their part to keep up with the justice and moral philosophies while making their decision. Therefore, one should try from the student days onward to mould themselves in such a way that when in future , when they face such a situation,  their way of dealing with the issue should be strong enough to overcome the challenges and be bright example of Justice in the society.

For example, in case of issue relating to capital punishment, we have to see what ways of thinking about justice and morality underlie the arguments we have over right to live. The defenders of the capital punishment says that purpose of Article 21 is to provide a dignified life to all human beings and a person who fails to acknowledge the dignity of other persons is justified to be legally executed and that  is what worthy of honouring, recognizing and encouraging. The opponents of capital punishment say that purpose of Article 21 not only provides dignified lives to the victims but also to the perpetrator.

It is very hard to argue about justice without arguing about the purpose of social institutions and about what qualities are worthy of honour and recognition. According to Aristotle, better way to mutual respect is to engage directly with moral convictions, which people bring to public life, rather than require that people leave their deepest moral convictions outside the whole arena of debate before they enter it. The Mytilenian debate of 427BC is perhaps one of the ancient world’s best examples of an argument with something vital at stake: following an unsuccessful insurrection in the city of Mytilene, the Athenians had voted to put to death not only the uprising’s leaders, but all Mytilenian men, and to enslave its women and children. Fears that this judgment erred on the side of harshness led to a second debate, with Diodotus arguing for clemency, and Cleon, “the most violent man at Athens”, opposing him.[4]

Ronal Dworkin, one of the American philosophers, also agree with the idea that law should not be only about social facts, but includes the “morally best justification for the institutional facts and practices that we intuitively regard as legal”. According to him, while providing justification for a practise , there should be moral truth which should be supporting such justification, otherwise one cannot know whether a society has a legal system or not.[5]  Apart from Aristotle and Ronal Dworkin, there are many other philosophers and jurists who believe, that a statement made by a person on any issue should support the idea that any statement made by a person should be backed up by moral justification and there should be element of justice involved in it. The skills one learns through a good debate are crucial for modern life. Political events continue to remind us of the importance of persuasive arguments and good oratory that appeal not only to our rational side, but our emotional side too.

Authority, according to which the “role and primary normal function [of authority] is to serve the governed.”[6] On this view one turns to the law, i.e., one relies on law’s authority, in the same way one turns to an expert on a particular question, namely in order to learn from it what to do .[7] Under this approach, the justification for following the law, and the limits of law’s authority, are straightforward: One is normally justified in following the law because, and to the extent that, by doing so one is more likely to comply with the reasons one has than by trying to work out those reasons on one’s own. All this is presented as a conceptual truth about the nature of law.

Debating In the Era of Social Networking:

 The art of debate involves mastering skills of obvious intrinsic value: the confidence to speak in public, and make sense; the construction of a logical argument; the ability to read an audience’s reactions; and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness to hear others’ arguments, and to respond to them. Further, in the present scenario of  social networking , where people engage more of in twitter and face book comment debate. “Prior to the Internet, the adage was ‘Think before you act’ . . . But now it’s ‘Think before you upload, think before you tweet” “The essence of free speech is that we allow people with whom we disagree to speak. Wrongheaded views will be aired. But free speech means no one gets the last word. We can – and indeed, we should – use our own right to free speech to challenge expression we think is unpleasant or wrong. To do this we need to be equipped to argue in public. he discussion of the possible limits and limitations of free speech recurs on an almost constant basis across social media, and perhaps nowhere so starkly as on Twitter, where those disagreeing with one another rail at anyone who will listen – and indeed, anyone who won’t. Twitter’s problem is its encouragement of the individual’s “broadcast mode”,[8] where the superficial appearance of a conversation is, in fact, two or more people simply stating and restating their views with ever-intensifying fury. But the powerful thing Twitter has going for it is that there is no barrier to entry if you have access to the internet. To take part in a debate, you have to be allowed through the front door in the first place; it’s striking, if not surprising.[9]


“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument” It’s tempting to look at modern-day political debates and think what a long way we’ve come from the days of Cicero and Pericles,” he told me. “But it’s worth remembering that the whole game is knowing your audience, and knowing the medium. Nowadays, the main audience for a debate won’t be the people in earshot: the exchange is intended to be, as it were, overheard by hundreds of thousands of people on television and social media. So, of course, people don’t make three-hour-long, perfectly turned speeches intended to be taken in whole: they semaphore emotion, repeat key words, pepper it with catchphrases and sound bites. And that’s what works, so for a budding lawyer its important to make a balance in what they debate , whether justified or not but  needs to be backed rationality and in accordance to the good conscience of natural justice and science of jurisprudence. Lastly, a law student should always keep in mind , “In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.”

[1] Ronald Dworkin, A Matter of Principle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985) at 12 [Dworkin, Principle].

[2] Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue: Th e Th eory and Practice of Equality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000) at 372

[3] Ibid

[4] Alex Cark , Why Debating Still Matters  , (Available at:,)

[5] Ibid.

[6] Joseph Raz, Th e Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) at 56 [Raz, Morality of Freedom].

[7] Jules L Coleman, “Methodology,” in Jules Coleman & Scott Shapiro, eds, Th e Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 311 at 341

[8] Supra f.n. 4

[9] Ibid

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