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Procopio Hosts Innovative Policy Debate Tournament

For many lawyers, judges and justices, high school and college policy debate served as their directional North Star into the legal profession. With that in mind, Procopio sponsored the Legends of the Golden West High School Novice Debate Tournament January 9 and 10, 2021, gathering several great former high school and college policy debate legends online. This year’s event attracted teams from seven states and the District of Columbia. In attendance were students from urban and rural and public and private schools.

Teams of novice debaters (in their first year of debate) competed in seven rounds of competition discussing this year’s national high school debate topic dealing with Criminal Justice Reform. What was different about the Procopio-sponsored event was that these young middle and high school students were provided a volunteer judging pool that included national collegiate debate champions, top speakers, National Debate Tournament finalists, and some of the greatest legends of policy debate.

Procopio Managing Partner John D. Alessio said Procopio’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and community service motivated the firm’s sponsorship of this unique event. “The criminal justice reform topic is so important in this day and age, and giving a diverse array of novice debaters the chance to connect with some of the greatest college debaters in history was special. We would like to thank the many lawyers from the largest firms in the country who gave up a portion of their weekend to make the Tournament a success.”

Included in the judging pool were the past and current chairs of the Board of Directors of the National Urban Debate League, Lenny Gail of Massey and Gail in Chicago, and Stuart Singer in the Florida office of Boies Schiller. Both Gail (Dartmouth College) and Singer (Northwestern University) were National Debate Champions in their undergraduate years. In addition, the Directors of Policy Debate at Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Mary Washington, the University of Georgia, the University of Redlands, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan also volunteered their time to judge at the tournament.

Procopio Partner Bill Smelko, who debated at the University of Redlands, organized the event drawing on contacts he has made throughout his many years of volunteer high school and college debate coaching. “Debate was such a tremendous influence in my life,” said Smelko, “that giving back is a no-brainer. I am so grateful to Procopio for recognizing the importance of providing such an amazing pool of judges to give advice to students of all ethnicities who are raising their voices in the debate about justice in America. I would encourage any lawyers or judges with middle or high school aged children or grandchildren to look into encouraging their children and grandchildren to join or start a debate program at their school. Urban Debate League Programs around the country are changing lives.”

With lawyers from top law firms volunteering their time, with dedicated and professional college debate coaches from the best programs in the country helping out, the tournament was a tremendous success. If anyone is interested in learning about how to start a debate program, or how virtual debate works, please contact Bill Smelko at