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Mastering the Art of Advocacy

Cartoon male and female judges

Advocacy can sometimes be seen as the arch enemy: we know we have to do it, but public speaking, especially speaking before a distinguished member of the legal profession, can be quite daunting.

I practice in criminal law so advocacy is a big part of my job description. I had a lot to learn in my first months on the job, and I had to learn fast. It takes time and a lot of practice, but these days I feel far more confident about standing up in the courtroom.

Here are my tips for improving your advocacy abilities and gaining confidence in the courtroom…


As they say, practice makes perfect. Whether it’s practicing in a small group or participating in moot competitions, practice will mean the power of persuasion comes to you a lot easier. One of the things I regret from my time at uni is not participating in mooting and witness examination competitions. Maybe I didn’t regret it at the time, but now I wish that I had put my fears and nervousness aside and jumped in headfirst.

Watch and learn

Go to your local court and watch. Watch practising lawyers in action and take note of their style and the terminology they use. Every lawyer has their own style, and in time you will develop yours. In the meantime, try to watch as many different cases you can to observe sentencing submissions, an application for bail, cross examination, empanelling of a jury, etc. If you make yourself known to court staff they might even be able to give you tips on which matters will be the best to observe.

Structure, structure, structure

This is very important. There is nothing worse than appearing in court and waffling from one topic to another and then going back to the first point again. Write a few key words and work out a structure that suits you. I have developed a preferred structure and it certainly is an asset, especially when I have to prepare for court quickly.

Talk to others

There is nothing wrong with talking to other lawyers and finding out what works for them. Most of those in the legal profession will be more than generous in passing on tips and providing guidance to a new lawyer.

Ask for feedback

I found it extremely helpful to obtain feedback from the magistrates and judges who I appeared before. Most, if you contact their associates or clerks, will be more than happy to provide feedback and offer suggestions to help you improve your advocacy skills.

Read and absorb

Along with practice, reading can help to reinforce the techniques of good advocacy. Here are a few recommended reads:

  • The Devil’s advocate by Iain Morley QC

  • Practical Legal Skills (second edition) by Ross Hyams, Susan Campbell and Adrian Evans

  • Essays in Advocacy edited by Tom Gray, Martin Hinton and David Caruso

  • Handy Hints on Legal Practice (third edition) by Gordon Lewis, Albert Dinelli, Emilios Kyrou

Good luck! It’s daunting at first, but it does get easier.

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