If you are considering a career at the Bar, then there is one thing that you cannot escape. The ‘A’ word: advocacy. Indeed, it is why many of us choose the Bar route in the first place, and it is likely to become more important for solicitors over the coming years, what with their higher rights of audience, and all that jazz.
However, I’m not going to lie to you. When you start it’s not nice, it’s not pretty, and for many it may be the first time you have experienced that well-known nerve-induced idiosyncrasy: the old sweating of the palms. In short, if you are not the type of person who enjoys on-the-spot testing or, indeed, inserting pencils into your own eye sockets (i.e. a masochist), then the likelihood is that the thought of being in a moot-like situation fills you with a foreboding sense of dread. While the normal response in the face of this kind of fear would be to run for the hills, unfortunately fleeing from the courtroom, gown a-flapping, is not looked upon kindly by the English judiciary and, even if you don’t find yourself disbarred, you will almost certainly be a figure of ridicule. Harsh, but, well, maybe not fair exactly, but almost certainly accurate.
While legal dramas present advocates as natural orators, breezing into the courtroom and effortlessly espousing a rainbow of polemic and leading questions (a big no-no in most situations), winning over the jury with a carefully timed eye-brow lift and wig-flick – all before the credits roll – the reality is that very few new advocates find the transition from stuffy library to ferocious war zone easy. However, perhaps the greatest fallacy of all is that if, on your first front-line endeavour, you fail to fall easily into a Kavanagh QC-esque diatribe almost as soon as the judge takes a seat, then you may as well hang up the gown for good, old bean, and hot-step it to your local Job Centre. Though it is true that some people find the transformation from student to advocate relatively easy, that’s not the case for everyone and, in all honesty, that does not matter. Even if you are not a natural orator there is no reason why you cannot became a highly skilled and, ahem, absolutely excellent barrister by following a few practical steps. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
This, of course, is exactly the premise of The Golden Rules of Advocacy, a slim volume of just 127 small pages that claims, no, promises, to improve your advocacy skills through the careful understanding and digestion of a number of handy tips – the eponymous golden rules, if you will – that’ll have ‘em literally clapping with ferocious enthusiasm from the stands (well, not quite, but you get the gist).
Drawing on the material he used for a one-day seminar, distinguished barrister Keith Evans combines common sense with his unique take on the machinations of the courtroom (gleaned through his illustrious career) to provide a humorous, one-stop-shop guide to all facets of the advocacy experience. Opening with an exposition of what he deems to be the four ‘dimensions of advocacy’, he emphasises that a trial is not a truth-finding exercise as such, but rather an opportunity for a practitioner to develop a convincing argument in favour of his or her client. He centralises how important it is for the advocate to remain honest and sincere, at the same time asserting the effectiveness of the most simple and efficient delivery (none of the old law school Latin, thank you very much), as well as the crucial need to guard against needless repetition. Yes, that’s right, you must guard against needless repetition (sorry, couldn’t help it).
Splitting his advice into a number of easily consumed chapters, Evans discusses issues such as advocacy as theatre; the psychology of advocacy; the examination of witnesses; examination in chief; cross-examination; re-examination; and, the favourite of producers of TV legal dramas across the land, the reverberating final speech. He offers logical and helpful advice regarding the ways to skilfully finesse the jury (and win their sympathies), and explains how to subtly manipulate language in order to achieve your desired result.
While this book is teeming with pragmatic information and tips that can be easily utilised in practical situations, the only potential downside (although that terminology is, perhaps, too harsh) is that the discussion of the processes of both cross-examination and re-examination seems to lack the dynamism of preceding chapters. It is not bad, as such, just not as good as the rest of the material. However, this is probably reflective of the real-life realities of the courtroom – and the fact that neither are as dramatically significant in the final outcome of a case as legal dramas would have us believe – rather than owing to any weakness on the part of the author.
Yes, it cannot be denied that The Golden Rules of Advocacy is a pricey little tome, but if your finances cannot stretch to a firm purchase, you should almost certainly try to check it out of the library. While Evans’s claim at the outset – that if you read his book for just two minutes a day, and then think about what you have read for eight minutes, in two months you will ‘already be better than 75 per cent of the competition out there’ – does seem unrealistic and overly ambitious, even the most cynical reader could not deny that the simple advice he offers in terms of courtroom gait and use of language will undoubtedly help an aspiring and newly qualified barrister to hone their craft to a razor-edge faster than through the laborious process of trial and error alone.
While there are a lot of very excellent books out there dealing specifically with advocacy – The Devil’s Advocate by Iain Morley QC is one – there is nothing currently in circulation that will help you improve, or hit the ground running, quite as fast as this nifty little number.