Debating Secretary Jack Wray shares his experience ahead of the Debating Final

"In LawSoc you meet people who are in your year and also with people in the years above and below because you go to the same socials, it removes that academic year barrier."

So Jack, tell us about your involvement in LawSoc…

I now sit on the LawSoc committee as the Debating Secretary but I participated in other events more heavily in my first year. It was such a good way to get involved in school activities and become integrated in university life. In LawSoc you meet people who are in your year and also with people in the years above and below because you go to the same socials, it removes that academic year barrier.

What sorts of things have you been involved in?

On the academic side I took part in the debating competition and won in my first year. I also took part in negotiating where me and my partner got up to the quarter final stage of the competition. There was also the social aspects, trips to Manchester, Amsterdam and I went to Dublin this year (but couldn’t brave the long coach journey home so I got a flight instead!).

Like most second year students, you’re at the mid-point of your degree now, how are you finding it?

It only feels like yesterday since I turned up, especially after seeing all the new offer holders coming in on open days. I’m really enjoying it and I think I’m making the most out of my time here.

How are you finding your term as the LawSoc Debating Secretary?

I really enjoy it. It can be tough at times because it demands a lot of time. I’ve got the same workload as any other second year law student with the additional responsibilities of organising competitions, attending career events and being there for people who need a bit of support. I do find it actually pushes me to organise my time and structure my days which is a really good skill to have. In fact I don’t think I would have developed my organisations skills so soon if I hadn’t been for taking this role on. It turns out I get more out of my uni experience as a whole.

Why debating? What do people get out of it?

I think the most important thing, at least the most important thing I get out of it is not necessarily what comes from the competitive side of things (which is of course important), but it’s seeing how people get more confident in themselves. When people first start they often read word for word off a sheet and then two or three debates later the notes shrink and people become more confident in themselves. They start projecting their voices and opinions more strongly. I think these are really important skills going into any career, especially in the legal sector.

What sort of activities can those joining expect to be involved in?

We run two main debating competitions in the School and topics covered are not exclusively ‘legal’ but can cover others areas like politics and general knowledge. In the first semester we have the junior competition for first years and in the second semester we have the senior’s, for second and third years. This year however, I have included three first year teams in the senior competition because they were good enough. It will be interesting to see how they get on.

How often do you meet?

I meet every team once a week so everyone gets a debate once a week. I currently lead the debates Monday to Wednesday with the same motion so everyone gets a go. Everyone has the opportunity to do at least three organised debates and then there’s a knock out element throughout the quarters, semi and final competition. The senior debating final is taking place on 8 March in the Moot court room from 17:00.

Who is debating for?

Anyone interested in developing certain skills and not only for those that have a specific career path in mind. Because of the broad nature of debating it can be beneficial for anyone and is not so legally focussed. If someone wanted to become a barrister then of course it’s good practice but equally, if someone wanted to go into teaching for example, they would still benefit. People often gain confidence and develop skills like the ability to project their voice and thoughts.

What can we expect from the debating final?

The final itself, it’s a good event. We’ll have two teams of two in the final. When those involved have reached that point they really are some of the best debaters. We’ll be doing a topical motion, which I can’t go into just yet and we’ve also got the sponsors of the event, White and Case coming up to judge. Both representatives, an associate and a partner are alumni from Leeds. They’re holding a networking event directly after the final where people can meet and speak with them and get information about the firm. It’s great to have them involved as it adds gravitas to the competition.

Does your position as Debating Sec give us an idea about what you want to do in the future?

Not really no. The longer I’m in law school the more career opportunities I become aware of. I wanted to become the Debating Sec as I’ve been involved with debating for a long time, it’s something that I really enjoy and it obviously gives you options and transferrable skills. Whether I want to become a solicitor or a barrister, that’s a decision I haven’t yet made. I took on the challenge with those two career options in mind but even if I didn’t go into law I know that the skills are still there.

How have you framed your academic journey knowing that your options are still open?

One thing I was told on the applicant open day was “don’t limit yourself and the potential possibilities”. I decided to take a broad approach and I’m currently studying Public International Law as well as Company Law, so two very different ends of the spectrum. I just think it gives that rounded element to my academic experience. For those who are undecided it’s good advice and it’s working for me. 

Have you been involved in any other extracurricular activities?

I like to go along to career presentations, the big law firms that everyone expects to hear about and recognises the names of, that’s a potential avenue to go down. I recently went to a discussion with barristers and the Chairman of the Northern Chancery Bar Association to hear about careers at the bar. Personally for me, meeting a barrister who went to a University in Liverpool (where I’m from) was a really good motivational experience. When academic life gets tough, meeting real people who have gone through the same thing, it gives you that added motivation. It’s nice to hear about the practical application of what we learn and you see that what you’re learning will have a purpose. Listening to professionals in different lines of work shows you how many different choices you can make and it also opens your eyes to life outside London. There is such a buzzing prospect of work outside London, in a number of the Northern cities.

Leeds is up there isn’t it? The biggest legal and financial sector outside London…

Yes, I was really surprised actually. That was one thing I didn’t realise before I came to Leeds and that’s one thing I’ve been exposed to that has really altered my thoughts for the future. I’m not as keen to go to London as I was, it’s not the only option.

What else have you been up to this year?

LawSoc organised a Careers Dinner, that was great. One of the visiting companies was Macfarlanes and they gave a career presentation the next day. ‘Cradle to grave of a large commercial deal’ which was a really interesting spin on a career presentation. One of the speakers was a Partner from Macfarlanes who also studied here at the School. It was really good seeing such a prestigious firm in London having a partner, with so much responsibility who did their LLB here at Leeds. Some people might think that these huge firms might only go for your Ox-Bridge graduates but it’s simply not the case. Regardless of where you’re from, if you’re capable you can get into the position you want. This was really beneficial to see. 

Any advice to students who want to gain the most out of their University experience?

Without sounding like a LawSoc marketing rep, and from more of an objective point of view I would definitely say get involved in the Law Society as there are so many different things you can experience, even beyond the School of Law. The other day we did the ‘Equality and Diversity Quiz’ with HistorySoc. We combined the two Schools from different sides of the campus and it was a really good way of getting involved with other people at the University. Law Soc is an avenue to meet other people and I’d highly recommend it.

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