A good lawyer will convey complex information clearly. Deflect opposition challenges with ease. And appeal to the judge or arbitrator in a personal way.
But how do you get it all right?
Here are our top 5 tips to hone your craft.
1. Develop a case theory
Everything you do is underpinned by case theory. So be sure to focus on this from the outset. You’ll need to think about which witnesses you call, what facts you present and what you might downplay or counter.
In short, your case theory is the overarching narrative that shapes your oral advocacy. And it needs to account for your evidence, facts, and witness testimony in a story anyone can understand – a story that supports your client.
Strong case theory identifies key facts and motives. It’s the blueprint from which you will construct all your oral arguments.
2. Don’t wing it. Write a script.
Once you have developed your case theory, refine your oral arguments by making a list of your key points. Establish a logical order. And then link everything together in a coherent script.
This will help you to stay on track throughout proceedings.
Your script doesn’t need to be written word for word. Rather, you want notes that allow for flexibility. So you can adapt and think on your feet when you need to counter objections from your opposition.
Your notes should include important facts and figures. This way you can lead off confidently, and tick every box – while maintaining a natural rhythm. They’ll also help you respond to any counterarguments.
It’s all about creating a plan that’s fluid, so you can flow with the verbal punches. And strike hard when the time is right.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Preparation is key when it comes to presenting a persuasive argument.
Ever been stumped by an unexpected question? It’s not fun. So cover your bases by preparing for every possible scenario.
Start by jotting down your main arguments. Brainstorm potential angles your opposition could take. And then prepare answers for everything just in case.
This will help you to feel relaxed when presenting. And in turn, confident – which is crucial to performing at your best. Not only that, but you’ll establish an air of credibility and trustworthiness that will improve your chances of success.
4. Get comfortable thinking quickly – and on your feet
What makes oral advocacy so exhilarating? Anything can happen. Seasoned litigators trade war stories, like when a blackout plunged their courtroom into total darkness – yet the judge presiding over the matter insisted the lawyer keep arguing. In the dark.
Quick thinking is an essential trait for any litigator.
To stay sharp, always keep handy a two-minute drill of what you must convince the court to win your case. This will keep you focused on the crux of your case, and the law which best backs your argument.
Never shy from addressing your weakest point. Every case has one, and you should be prepared to meet this, and any other questions, head-on. You’ll be more convincing and confident as a result.
Finally, always back every fact you put forward. You’ll avoid being caught out by opposing counsel and be far better armed to link your facts to your arguments.
5. Respect court etiquette
Every courtroom has its local etiquette, which may differ according to its jurisdiction, location, or size. Subtleties in etiquette between the Federal Court or Local Court should be researched well in advance; non-adherence will be deemed an insult to the court.
There are also several relatively universal rules when it comes to court etiquette. For example, you should be silent upon entering the court, and bow to the judge, if present. When called, proceed to the bar table and assume your seat in order of seniority, from right to left.
Other aspects of court etiquette reflect common sense: turn off your mobile phone, avoid eating or chewing at the bar table, and project your oral arguments clearly, with good pace and volume. It’s worth brushing up on court etiquette, particularly as the COVID work-from-home era has disrupted much of how we conduct ourselves professionally.