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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Advocacy: The Reality Behind The Hype


A standard text on practical hints for advocacy at the Bar makes the following points:

  • It is generally accepted throughout the English-speaking world that the standards of the English Bar are by and large among the best.

  • Ideal wear – unless you are utterly determined to make a political statement – is still the black jacket and waistcoat with striped trousers.

  • My Lord, Your Honour: there are complex rules of etiquette in addressing different levels of the judiciary: these are conventions, not law.

  • Conduct generally: for example, a barrister in robes never carries a briefcase or any other kind of bag. Barristers do not shake hands and should always address each other by their surnames.

  • The public attitude towards lawyers is unfortunate and understandable.

  • Give nothing away by your facial expressions.

  • The sheer, mind-numbing boredom of courtroom advocacy is rarely admitted. The detailed, endless preparation, the waiting in draughty corridors, the tiresome repetition of evidence and counter-evidence, the predictably bad-tempered judge, the waiting for the jury to return. The interminable waiting on draughty station platforms for the train to Snaresbrook for the plea in mitigation for £50, the standing on crowded trains for the case management conference in Merthyr Tydfil for £30. The egotism of the advocates who love to be “on their feet”. The dressing-up, the dressings-down. The judge who was obviously bullied at his public school and who subconsciously returns the favour to his subordinates throughout his working life.

  • The mystique of oral advocacy can be a gift to those who love the sound of their own voices. It is now generally accepted that the English tradition of oral adversarial advocacy involves a massive waste of time, and therefore money.

  • There is an irreconcilable contradiction between this sort of advice and the professed commitment of the Bar to a modern and classless approach. The English legal system pays homage to the primacy of oral argument.

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