Now, I am not really a qualified person (yet!) to suggest tips and tricks for effective advocacy. But Iain Morley QC, barrister in a leading set of London criminal chambers, certainly is. His book “The Devil’s Advocate” is fun and provides a light read useful to anyone interested in practical tips for advocacy or, ignoring the strictly law-related references, for general public speaking.
While reading a book on advocacy may seem contradictory (isn’t advocacy the art of speaking?), there are nonetheless tips and tricks that can prove really helpful. Here are some that I particularly liked:
- The advocate must assist – not instruct – the court in its decision-making process. In other words, the tribunal has the power to decide. You don’t. No one likes being told what to do, so ensure that you are seen as someone helping out the court and not trynig to win a competition against it. Understand the tribunal’s psychology.
- Dress well and appropriately. Well, this one might seem obvious: you must appear formal and like you’re a winner. However, understanding why is really useful: this goes back to understanding the tribunal’s psychology. if you wear too much colour or too much make up the tribunal will not appreciate it as it will give the impression you fancy yourself. Your clothes and appearance should not distract the court from its core purpose.
- Do not be afraid to occupy space in the courtroom. Don’t let your head sink into your chest, make sure your head is up to show you are attentive and in control. This is one of the hardest tips to follow, since it requires a great deal of self-confidence and good knowledge of your submission to avoid looking down to read your notes too frequently.
- Keep those hands still! This is my favourite tip: instead of moving your hands uncontrollably (annoying and counter-productive), furiously wiggle your toes. This will keep you so busy that all the other parts of the body will stop fidgeting. I have personally tried this tip and I have found that it really helps (but make sure you don’t wiggle your toes so much as to lose balance on your feet!).
- Write the closing speech when you receive the brief. This will ensure that you know exactly what you want from each witness, although the draft speech should be flexible. According to Iain Morely QC, if you follow this tip, you will find witness handling much easier. I have yet to try this.
- Do not assume your judge knows all the law. It is fine to remind the judge of the law. Afterall, judges are humans not machines- they cannot know or remember everything in the law. This tip sounds very reasonable, but I cannot quite imagine myself remind a judge about the law. Somehow, I think I would always feel that the judge knows best. But it is something I will keep in mind while training.
- Do not be afraid of silence. This is a really good advice: silence creates tension, it allows to pause between one sentence and another, between one question to a witness and another. It shows you are in control. Most of us, while training, feel the need to fill every silence with sound – obtaining the awful result of saying a lot of unnecessary and annoying things such as “Urmm”, “Ehm”, “Right”, “Mmm”. We must learn not to do it! (note to self)
- Ask others what they think. This is difficult. Or rather, asking what others think may be easy, but actually listening and learning from their answers is hard. It’s not about bad intention, but about being human and finding it hard to really see the same problems others see. This week, when I watched the video of my advocacy submission, I was really surprised when noticing good and bad aspects of my submission which I had perceived entirely differently while performing. For example, the pauses I took between one sentence and another felt to me – at the time – like extremely long, and I feared they would look really bad on me. In the video, these pauses were actually hardly noticeable! On the other hand, during the submission I did not realise I appeared ‘too serious’ and this made me appear terribly insecure and nervous. Something to improve on!
This article does not intend to provide advice for advocacy or to provide an exhaustive review of the book written by Iain Morely QC, but only to highlight some aspects which – in the way I understood them – were useful and interesting to me.
If you’ve read the book, which tips did you find relevant to improve your advocacy?