Advocacy for young lawyers is a big deal. It is, after all, what many lawyers went into practice after seeing on TV. What we don’t always get through TV, however, is the understanding that while there are very very good advocates out there, there are also some truly terrible ones.
What Makes a Good Advocate
Beyond the obvious, a good advocate:
- holds the attention of the Court. Irrespective of the mechanism by which we do it, if the Court isn’t listening to you then you can’t persuade it of anything.
- has prepared their case properly
- is prepared to fight when needed
- can articulate the strong points without ignoring the weak.
So the question becomes how can we, as young lawyers, develop our skills in advocacy to try and achieve these things.
What is an Advocate?
Occasionally I do stop to think about advocacy generally. After all, what is an advocate?
In this article I’m focusing on advocacy in the Courtroom context, but of course there are many more categories of advocacy. I can advocate for a change to work conditions, a change to the law, better pay, rights of a particular group, or for justice generally.
To me, advocacy in a broad sense is about this: using communication skills to persuade a person or group to adopt the position you seek.
The advocate’s role is persuasion. It may take many forms, but ultimately being able to persuade someone of something is the core.
How can we Develop our Courtroom Advocacy Skills?
This is an interesting question (I think, at least). There is a view that advocacy is the realm of the barrister (to my friends in the USA, the systems based on English law still retain this separation, even where they have been notionally blended – I understand that the USA still has trial specialists, so think of it in those terms).
I am not a person that holds such a view, however. I believe advocacy is something which can be developed in lawyers of all walks, and should not remain the sole purview of the Courtroom specialist. Of course some people are more natural advocates than others – but sometimes this is a reflection of experience.
To that end, here are my primary points to help develop our advocacy skills. I could deal with some oft cited things here like “be prepared” but I think everybody knows that, even if they didn’t read my opening few paragraphs.
So here are a few alternative propositions that you might not have thought about when considering your advocacy:
- Learn to control your actions. This includes your stance, your hands, your face, your breathing, and your tone. You must be in control of yourself and your actions. Your emotions and internal reactions should not show unless you intend them to. You need to be in control.
- Get honest feedback. Ask others to give you their impressions of you when speaking, and decide whether that is the impression you were aiming for. Some people when confronted with honest feedback have startling realisations about how they sound and how they present that they were simply ignorant of in the first place.
- Play the other side. Your role is to persuade the Court, so you cannot be blinded by your own arguments to the extent that you ignore those of the other side. A realistic appraisal and a bit of “counterpunch” in your preparation will take you a long way.
- Appreciate that you’re going to lose sometimes. The merits of your case notwithstanding, sometimes you will lose and you will feel like you should not have. This happens – get used to it, because it’s going to happen a lot more. A lose is not necessarily an indictment on your abilities. There might be things to learn from the experience, but sometimes you’re just going to lose.
That’s my take on advocacy for young lawyers. Got any more tips outside the normal? Let me know in the comments anything that will help us all out.