The Secret To Great Advocacy- Coronavirus Special

What is the secret of great advocacy?

In the early days of my career in the law I used to sit in the public gallery at Dumfries Sheriff Court and watch my boss and the rest of the local faculty solicitors going through their paces. Occasionally I’d get the opportunity to watch a guest appearance from - gasp! - an advocate from Edinburgh.  

As a trainee one of the main goals I had set myself was to work out what made the most effective courtroom practitioners stand out from the rest. What was the forensic “X factor”, the elixir of legal life?

It took me far longer to discover than it should have. There are many different styles of effective advocacy, but the best practitioners have one common denominator. They are always well prepared.

I can’t tell you the sense of crushing disappointment brought on by this revelation. No magic wand. No short cuts. No secrets or tricks. Just application. Reading. Diligence. Homework.

What makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable in court? For me, it is always the insidious dread that comes from knowing that you are not completely sure that you are on top of everything in your own file of papers.

The solid foundation of knowing your brief is the platform on which everything else is built. This is a truism that should not have been such a revelation to my youthful self. If only I’d done my reading…

There has been a great deal of very useful help and advice offered (including by our own John West) over the last few weeks on how to conduct remote court hearings. What has struck me most forcefully is that, without exception, they all identify the importance of proper preparation.

The fundamentals of advocacy will never change. In comparison, the format of the hearing is simply window dressing. Just remember that the judge’s window lets her see your eye roll unless you switch your camera off.