The Advocacy Podcast: Journeys to Excellence launched in January 2021. Host Bibi Badejo interviews star trial lawyers from different geographical and practice areas, about their careers and advocacy tips.
Season 1’s guests are (in episode order): Professor Leslie Thomas QC, Roger Dodd, Honourable Justice Ann Ainslie-Wallace, Sarah Clarke QC, Carl Heaton QC, Jo Sidhu QC, Ian Robertson SC, Rex Parris, Anesta Weekes QC, Justin Kahn, Allison Summers QC and James Rapley QC.

We have been hugely inspired and encouraged by the stories and advice shared with us on the Advocacy Podcast. Any one of these interviews with some of the world’s leading lawyers could comfortably fill these pages, but Counsel magazine has set us the tricky task of distilling their advice.

Advocates are trained not born

Common elements are a deliberate and conscious reflection on your own advocacy, and taking action towards trying new and improved techniques. If residential courses like the Keble College Advocacy Course are truly out of reach then national and international courses and talks are freely available online, such as from the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA).

There are excellent books, like Roger Dodd’s Cross Examination: Science and Technique and Ross Guberman’s Point Made: How to Write like the Nation’s Top Advocates. You can also look more widely than books by and for lawyers. International advocacy trainer Sarah Clarke QC recommends TED talks and podcasts as a mine of useful information; Justin Kahn rates Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen (book and blog), as well as books on design and multimedia learning. The resources are there and excuses for not using them run out fast.

Beyond that, training junior advocates was as much a learning curve for our guests as for their trainees. Along with humbling stories of senior lawyers and silks attending advocacy courses, they remind us that, like Roger Federer, ‘you can always do with some coaching’ (Ian Robertson SC).

Find your own voice

Professor Leslie Thomas QC talks powerfully about the impact of hearing Courtenay Griffiths QC use patois in a courtroom, shattering the illusion that our profession demands only advocates like Marshall Hall and Rumpole. That important message is echoed by every single guest. Watch, read, and listen to the best; and always think about why you found them effective. But remember that only by adapting those techniques to yourself, will you be and appear authentic and, ultimately, persuasive.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

There are, unfortunately, no shortcuts. Anesta Weekes QC reminds us of the primary need for effective preparation. Chronologies and schedules are a must. She also freehand draws diagrams (eg to follow a money trail) and advises keeping in touch with developments in relevant expert literature.

Perhaps Jo Sidhu QC’s highlighting system resonates: pink dates and times, green locations, yellow context, blue exhibits, orange for the client. Sarah Clarke QC swears by four-colour biros. Professor Leslie Thomas QC sets out the different accounts of each witness in tabular form before comparing and contrasting each witness’s table with the others. Laborious? Undoubtedly. An invaluable foundational work that imprints the case and identifies gaps and discrepancies? Absolutely.

Know your case, its strengths and weaknesses

‘Cases are rarely lost by the occasional dud question in evidence. Cases are lost with an inadequately thought-out case theory’ (HHJ Ann Ainslie-Wallace).

There are as many approaches to case analysis as there are advocates. Ian Robertson SC describes himself as a frustrated mathematician and imagines facts plotted on a Cartesian plane (an X and Y axis) with competing case theories as different proposed ‘lines of best fit’ (connect the dots). However you do it, after commanding all of the facts you need to sit back from the minutiae. Consider the context, including the human factors, and identify the key issues and best points. Thinking about your final speech or submission from the get-go will help you to shape the case from the start.

To master case analysis you must put yourself in the shoes not only of your client and tribunal, but also of your opponent and opposing key witnesses. Where are they coming from? Deal with bad facts and points: ignoring them is not an option. Your client may give you reams of instructions on uncontroversial issues but there comes a time when you have to, carefully, confront the (usually only two or three) points that could sink them. How can they be explained, contextualised, or sufficiently mitigated? Finally, don’t place bad points at the beginning or end of your argument – sandwich them safely somewhere in the middle.

Understand cognitive science (for trial lawyers)

American Super Lawyers Rex Parris and Justin Kahn recommend looking to cognitive science to improve your persuasive skills.

It can explain the fear (and thrill?) of addressing a courtroom and remind us of the need to manage ourselves well under inevitable stress. Jo Sidhu QC’s invaluable insights into the oft-neglected soft skills of advocacy include tips to control breathing, posture, and focus, to improve courtroom performance.

It can also help you understand better how decision-makers will perceive and absorb information, and think about and ultimately decide cases. In particular, your tribunal will thank you for reducing their cognitive load by distilling complex fact-patterns or issues into concise statements and visual aids; the simpler case theory is best. Also, ‘there is nothing persuasive about being an asshole’ (Rex Parris); once you have control of the courtroom do not act or look like a bully!

Use visual tools

Justin Kahn uses multimedia learning and graphic design to persuade in court. For example, you could convey a poor driving history on a timeline with images depicting collisions and speeding, rather than the usual list of dates and words. Or make a point by juxtaposing photographs, such as the poorly maintained workperson’s entrance and the gleaming front doorway.

Be killer in cross-examination

Renowned US lawyer and trial skills trainer Roger Dodd gives his top 10 tips for cross-examination and each are as important as the others. We list a few current favourites. Tip 4: Use constructive cross-examination; make it about your narrative rather than just attacking the other side’s. Tip 5: Choose your words carefully (the cars ‘smashed’, not ‘bumped’), and having chosen them, loop them again and again into your cross-examination. Tip 10: Use spontaneous loops; having heard the witness use a word that fits your narrative, loop and use their word again and again.

Make knockout speeches

Grab attention when you get your opportunity. Queensland DPP Carl Heaton QC prefers to open his cases like the director of a detective-thriller, rather than a lawyer drily recounting evidence, let alone the burden and standard of proof. Allison Summers QC encourages bravery and being frank to make your closing speeches more powerful – they are your closing speeches, not your clients’.

Win with your writing

James Rapley QC reminds us: ‘The written submission remains when the sound of counsel’s voice is long gone.’ Keep it concise and punchy. Certainly do not submit your first draft. Refine, refine, refine, by critically asking yourself of each summarised fact, legal authority, or point: ‘So what? Why does it matter?’

Want to hear more?

It is impossible to do justice to all of our guests so briefly. For the podcast episodes, information about our guests, and their recommended resources, go to: