Deborah is a Criminal Solicitor Advocate in Nottingham. She works exclusively as Prosecution Counsel on trials and, in addition to this, regularly undertakes both defending and prosecuting roles in Magistrates Courts. Her defence work can involve everything from representing prisoners to defending benefit fraud.
Ten Top Tips For Aspiring Advocates
1. Remember that whether we like it or not, first impressions do count! So ensure you look smart and clean (and smell sweet!). Your appearance as well as your eloquence should inspire confidence and respect from all.
2. Consider the important principle of the “six Ps”:
“Perfect Preparation Prevents P**s-Poor Performance”! Need I elaborate?!
3. Nerves are normal (assuming you have prepared!): they relate to adrenaline and mean you care. A good advocate will simply learn to disguise the symptoms. So, for example if you have a problem with shaking hands, clasp them behind your back as you stand to address the court. If you feel as though your tongue is going to stick to the roof of your mouth, ensure the advocates’ water jug and cups are close to hand. If you have a tendency to “gabble” when nervous, make a conscious effort to speak very slowly and pause occasionally (taking a sip of water gives you time to do this and provides good “thinking time” too): you should then find that you’re speaking at a natural speed.
4. Don’t mumble! Keep your head up and speak clearly enough for all those present to hear you. This may sound obvious but is often forgotten.
5. Make eye contact with whoever you’re addressing, be they witness, judge, jury or magistrates; this will help to build a rapport and convey your confidence in what you are saying. It follows that shuffling through papers or scrolling through a tablet screen whilst addressing the court or questioning a witness should be avoided where possible.
6. Remember the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar!” Whilst the setting and system may be adversarial, charm can often go a long way when seeking to achieve your objectives. So try to establish good terms with your opposite number. Being over-assertive can be perceived as aggression, which is very unattractive and can undermine your effectiveness. Even an entrenched witness or adversary may be “lulled” by an apparently friendly and polite approach: I call this the “Columbo strategy” (ask your mum and dad or “Google” it!)! Remaining firm and resolute doesn’t require a bullish and bullying manner.
7. Make friends of the court staff: they are often a mine of useful information and can be valuable allies on occasions.
8. Ensure you know where your court centre is before you set out: even the fear of getting lost and being late can be stressful and interfere with your focus on the case.
9. Punctuality is vital, both for the reason referred to above and (possibly even more importantly) because you don’t want to invoke the wrath of the judge or magistrates before you even open your mouth to argue your client’s case!
10. Remember you’re not a barrister in a Dickens novel! Pomposity and verbosity don’t add anything to the merits of an argument; they distract and detract. Juries, judges, witnesses and magistrates will warm to a natural style and be unimpressed with an attempt to impersonate a character from fiction or history. So be yourself and be proud of who and what you are!
Good luck and enjoy!