It is 8 am in Spokane, Washington, and I am writing in a cafeteria packed to the walls with loud, anxious debate students with the aroma of morning coffee permeating the air. If I weren’t still half asleep, the din would be giving me a headache. Very soon, everyone will rush the exit, clogging the doorway so as not to miss their rounds, and I will enjoy the brief silence as I await results for my students—the novice LD squad—many having their first tournament experience. “How much of this am I supposed to read?” one nervous student asked me earlier. I glanced at his case, written by an older debater, and noticed it was a whopping 13 pages. “There’s no way you’ll finish this in six minutes,” I told him. “Let’s cut it down.” Then I looked around at the others. “Are you guys all using this case?” They nodded. “It’s the one the varsity team gave us.”
It’s no secret I have a strong distaste for speed-reading, even at the varsity level, but I was shocked to find they expected the novices to sacrifice quality for quantity. Speed-reading sounds unpleasant even coming from those who are good at it. From my judging experience, I know it sounds ten times worse from those who aren’t. Working together we cut the case down to five pages and then, in a last minute pep talk, I read them all a line from the judge’s instruction sheet: “Communication in LD should emphasize clarity.” “Just relax, guys,” I told them. “Be clear, speak slowly, and have conviction.” Then they filed off to join the others.
My own first debate experience was at the tail end of a debate camp my mother signed me up for when I was 13 because, in her words, I “was always jabbering.” My partner and I had the distinction of losing every single match in that first camp, 0 for 7, but I was hooked. I debated through all of my schooling since, then worked as a judge, and now a coach. I suppose today I exhibit some of the clichés we associate with debaters. The other day my girlfriend asked whether I wanted Café Rio or Zupas for lunch. I first picked Café Rio and she turned the car around, but then I hesitated: “Maybe Zupas is healthier.” She laughed at me. “It’s official,” she said. “You’ll argue with yourself.” But to be honest, arguing itself, and especially, winning arguments, doesn’t interest me. I actually don’t really care whether my students win or not. What I care about is the form of debate itself.
I once had a debate experience I still question to this day. It was the final round of the Bingham Copper Classic and, with about fifteen minutes to go, an eager teammate approached me with a tempting proposal. He had debated the same team earlier in the tournament and offered his notes containing all their arguments. Although this was common practice among teams, and not prohibited by the rules, it made me uneasy and I declined. An hour later, I had lost the round. I still wonder whether I did the right thing. Was it some conception of honor or dignity? Was it really such a moral issue? Or was it out of some reverence for the form of debate? The rush of spontaneous argumentation would have been lost had I known the case beforehand. Even though I cannot find the specific motivation behind my action, I wouldn’t change my decision, nor would I advise my students to act differently.
Similar to debate, it seems that there is something both crucial and intangible that must be preserved in the way of the law. Sometimes a “win” for one side isn’t what is best for the law itself. It could be the ethical underpinnings that laws are based on, or maybe the protection of the rights that the law guarantees. In any case, the discovery and preservation of this form is what brings me to desire a legal education. The opportunity to have a hand in the proper interpretation and discourse of the law serves to further intensify my interest. I believe my skills acquired in debate, as well as my respect for its intrinsic value will both invigorate my interest and sharpen my abilities as a professional of the law. Regardless of wins or losses, it is the pursuit and preservation of its true form that best describes my desired end in a legal education.
(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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