Excellent debating skills a must for a successful legal career

debatingWith soaring opportunities and high remuneration, the popularity of law courses has been on an upswing lately. Furthermore, the entry of foreign law firms in India and the booming Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) industry have only increased the appeal. Law students want to see themselves as the next Harish Salves and Ram Jethmalanis of India.

But what is the study of law all about? Is it just about reading - in some cases, mugging - and making sense of the tonnes of books available? Not completely, we would say. An aspiring lawyer needs to place equal - if not more -emphasis on his negotiating and debating skills, the ways of presenting cogent arguments in a clear and persuasive manner. This provides a basis for building up on the knowledge acquired during the study of law and correlate it with the case at hand.

A debate is, basically, an argument. That is not to say that it is an undisciplined shouting match between parties that passionately believe in a particular point of view. In fact the opposite is true. Debating has strict rules of conduct and quite sophisticated arguing techniques and you will often be in a position where you will have to argue the opposite of what you believe in. For a successful legal career, understanding this is pivotal.

For the uninitiated among law students, improving your debating skills can have many starting points. It is advisable, at least initially, to establish that the purpose of dialogue is not to win (or shouldn't be) but to sharpen your own ideas - trying as much as possible to keep this in mind helps a lot. Take a debate as a nonzero sum game. You neither lose nor win; you just learn and etch ideas in your mind. In another way, you could practice by reading about current affairs or other issues with various points of view, and try to assess the merits of the arguments. Perhaps you could engage your friends in discussion about some issue that you or they have strong opinions on, and attempt to probe their logic, though in a friendly, exploratory manner rather than adversarial.

After all, the job of a lawyer is to convince a judge what is right and what is wrong, while putting forth compelling arguments all the time. Law books and long case studies aside, it is the language of law - your argument and debating skills - that count the most in a legal career.


- Sumeet Seth (views expressed in the article are that of the author)


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