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In Defense of Lay Judges

We love to scoff at them. But do they represent the true meaning of parli?

Sometimes, it's easy to see lay judges as the bane of our beautiful debater existence. They don't know jargon, the norms, or even the rules. They can't flow spread or, sometimes, can't flow. So what is there to like?

Believe it or not, there's not a few reasons why lay judges may be the best of the bunch.

Understanding Lay Judges

A lay judge is just a judge who doesn't actually know parli. Especially in local tournaments (ie. non-invitationals), lay judges tend to be parents whose kids are in forensics. Odds are, they don't really want to be there.

In essence, lay judges represent the Average Joe pulled off the street. They do not know the first things about debate, including the burdens on each side or the structure. Some important things when encountering a lay judge are to:

  • Explain everything

  • Don't speed through

  • Avoid jargon and definitions debates

  • Be confident!

Since they might not be as motivated as other judges, engage them! Maintain eye contact, speak with conviction, and try not to yell at them (a common grievance from lay judges.)

The Spirit of Parli

Parliamentary debate was originally created as a form of debate accessible to the common people, free of spread and complex theory. That means lay judges rather embody the true intention of parli: to uphold democracy with spirited debate among fellow citizens. It is useless to discuss an issue if no one can understand!

While parli may at times seem buried under layers of jargon, the arguments themselves are conceivable to anyone. The claim-data-warrant structure is used in schools across the nation. Ultimately, the main weapon used to win rounds can be explained to lay judges in basically the same way as experienced ones.

Even further, lay judges help us practice explaining everything well. This tactic is crucial in any situation, as arguments that make sense are loads more believable. Communication is rooted in argumentation, persuasion, and rhetoric; improving these skills goes to the very crux of debate as an activity and as a way to get better in general.


Experienced judges can have extended lists of preferences that can be difficult to navigate. They come with their own odd quirks, ie. "If I don't like a definition, I make up my own and judge the round using it." These can be difficult to navigate and occasionally rather irritating.

Lay judges are more open-minded, not having a sense of what they like yet. This gives debaters a certain degree of freedom. Whatever you tell the judge about the customs of parli they will probably believe.

Last Words

Whether from a higher motive of preserving spirited discourse or the freedom of working with a less experienced judge, lay judges can actually be a blessing in disguise. And while you don't get to speed your way through a pile of jargon, they help focus the debate on the argumentation.

Plus, how are you supposed to convince your friend that your favorite band really is better when you rely on jargon?

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