The advocacy assessment is a test of your public speaking skills and of your understanding of what is required when in a courtroom. Although set in a legal context, it is your knowledge of the objective and process of the hearing that is being assessed, rather than law itself. My assessment was in criminal litigation, so I will say now that this piece will lean towards criminal. It may be that you have a hearing in civil, but the basic advice remains the same.
The assessment will be a simple hearing that doesn’t involve arguing the law, but about having a handle on the facts of the case; as mentioned above, they are not assessing your legal understanding. You will have a prepared speech pleading your case, and may have to listen to a fellow student’s counter-argument for the prosecution or defence, and you will be asked questions by the judge. You might be filmed to aid assessment.
The types of hearing used for the assessment are ones where persuasive argument is used to obtain a particular outcome. In a bail hearing, for example, you are persuading the judge or magistrate to either release the accused on bail or keep him in custody. In a sentencing hearing you are trying to persuade the judge of the type of sentence the convicted should receive. In either case, you will have been taught what factors are considered when making the decision. You will have also been taught how the hearings proceed and the applicable court etiquette – don’t forget this!
Many people are worried about public speaking. Advocacy is different to standing up in front of a group of people to present, mainly because there will only be a few people in the room with you. The main reason is that you can prepare what you have to say inside out. In my opinion, if you understand the reason for the hearing and know your case, even if you forget what you planned to say, you should be able to ad-lib enough to get you through. A successful advocacy assessment is about two things: preparation and confident speaking. I have a few suggestions that should help you with both.
You will get a scenario before your assessment, which will set the scene for your hearing. This is the key to your preparation; understanding the facts inside out and applying them to the decision making factors in advance will help you structure your speech, and understand why you are asked particular questions. In particular, you should consider the following points.
There are lots of little tips for positive public speaking that will help improve your advocacy. Take some time to practice them, so that they come naturally.
Several of my friends really begrudged the advocacy assessment; they didn’t want to be litigators and felt it was a waste of time. I disagree with this. Although non-litigators may not be standing up in court, all lawyers need good public speaking skills. Be it to persuade your client to follow your advice, to negotiate a deal or to make a presentation to your team, the skills used in advocacy will help you during your training contract.
Doing well in the assessment is nothing to do with confidence – it is about being comfortable. The cocky, ‘already knows how to do this’, ‘going to breeze it’ lawyer will often come unstuck when they realise they haven’t done the preparation that they should. The quiet ones really should be watched, they often make good advocates. And remember, as this is a skill you only need to be satisfactory, there are no grades here!
Next week I will be looking at sales of part in Property Law and Practice.