Bar Room Drawl

StillJust back from the Australian Bar Association’s Advanced Trial Advocacy Course, a week-long residential retreat in Brisbane.

It is a remarkable thing that a group of participants with some hundreds of years of advocacy experience should undertake this sort of training.   It is an extraordinarily intense way to spend a week. Apart from all the lectures and demonstrations, we were required repeatedly to perform in front of a faculty of coaches consisting not only lawyers (Supreme Court Judges and other judges and senior practitioners from a number of jurisdictions) but also performance coaches. After each performance, we were immediately analysed by at least two coaches on the spot, and then sent into another room to watch our performances on video, and have that analysed by a third coach.  And so, apart from the legal stuff, along the lines of:

  • Your second point in your opening could have been put with just as much effect in a more general way, which would have reduced the risk of your 3rd witness not coming up to proof;
  • Should you not have framed your 4th cross-examination question as a closed question rather than an open question?
  • Your gate-closing on such-and-such a point could have come later, so as not to diminish the initial impact of the cross-examination as a whole.

And so on, there was also a lot of performance stuff:

  • You were using hand gestures too soon here – leave that until you have achieved fuller connection with the witness;
  • You know the answers to the closed questions you have planned out, but give the impression that you do not, and communicate more surprise when the answer comes;
  • Pull back from the lectern, slow the pace and lean further back at this point; otherwise, the questioning looks too aggressive.

That sort of stuff.

In real-courtroom situations, of course, it is inappropriate to experiment, and there no is immediate feedback of this sort. And so the opportunity to listen to feedback, and to try different ways of implementing it, is invaluable.

I worked out the other day it is now very nearly 40 years since I started doing advocacy – then as an articled clerk in Norwich making applications to set aside default judgments and the like.  Happily, I have over the years won much more often than I have lost, but a few days on an intensive course like this brings it home that there is still a lot more to learn, as a few extracts from the video will show.  It is an art of huge complexity.

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