Advocacy is any action that speaks in favour of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.
If you are considering a legal career, you may have come across ‘advocacy’ being mentioned as a key skill. Advocacy is a specialist skill used by legal advisors, mostly barristers, to present a specific argument to a Court with a view to persuading a jury and a judge to reach a decision that is favourable to clients.
Advocacy can be written or oral, and both solicitors and barristers can advocate before a Court. However, although solicitors and barristers both use advocacy to address Courts, solicitors have to gain higher rights of audience to be able to address a High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court.
An individual can also advocate on their own behalf before a Court, and will be referred to as the ‘litigant in person’ because they have no legal representative advocating on their behalf.
Oral advocacy is considered a ‘performance’ skill, requiring an advocate to address the Court concisely and persuasively. Advocating orally requires the presentation of a case in a way that is clear, efficient and well-organised.
Written advocacy requires a different level of discipline and organisation. When advocating in writing, it’s important to present the Court with a document that can be used as a basis for judgement. Written advocacy must be presented professionally and succinctly.
Advocacy submitted in writing should provide a brief case introduction, the facts of the case, a chronology of events in relation to a case, how the law applies to a case, and submissions – the stage where the law is applied to the facts of a case.
The key difference between a lawyer and a legal advocate is that a lawyer can offer advice, but is unable to represent a client in Court. An advocate can offer legal advice and represent a client in Court.
A legal advocate performs a range of tasks, including:
The list is not exhaustive. Advocacy begins when you meet a client and continues as you research a case, prepare documents for trial and present the case in Court.
Law advocates can also provide independent legal support, with specialist skills in analysing a client’s problems and providing well-researched legal advice. Advocates can represent clients before any Court in the UK or any other decision-making body, including:
Many advocates specialise in a specific area of law, and can serve individuals, organisations, and in-house legal teams.
Key advocacy skills include:
Preparation – Legal advocates deal with people from all walks of life in different environments, meaning they must be ready for anything, especially when dealing with a client, a colleague or a courtroom.
Interviewing – The advocacy process starts with the client and being able to gather key information from a client, which is relevant to the facts of the case. It is a crucial skill because it forms the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.
Persuasion – The most important skill for any legal advocate is persuasion. Persuasive skills differentiate the legal profession from any other profession and the ‘powers of persuasion’ are key to becoming a successful legal advocate, long-term.
Legal drafting – Having the ability to juggle lots of legal documents and legal correspondence while maintaining a professional standard is a must-have skill for legal advocates. Having well-organised documents and correspondence ensures cases are kept on track.
Presenting – The ability to present to a Court, a jury, and clients – often under pressure – clearly, concisely and convincingly is what makes a successful advocate. Forming logical, chronological arguments and presenting them in a confident tone, while maintaining professional conduct, is a unique skill needed to succeed as a legal advocate.
Legal advocacy is most applicable in the context of Court litigation, which is usually the last resort when it comes to resolving disputes. The image of a lawyer arguing in Court is probably the first thing people think of when they hear the phrase ‘legal advocacy’.
However, the skills associated with advocacy are rarely confined to the courtroom. They apply to other forms of dispute resolution such as arbitration and mediation, plus the work that lawyers do with clients generally.
For instance, skills such as researching areas of law and presenting findings are just as relevant when giving advice to a client as they are when representing a client in Court.
If you have plans to become a solicitor or become a barrister, advocacy is an important skill to possess. For barristers, advocacy is a compulsory discipline that forms part of the vocational component of bar training.
From public speaking to critical thinking, advocacy is a highly sought after skill by employers across the legal sector and other professions. Advocacy is important for developing communication, research skills and knowledge of courtroom etiquette and practice. It is also key to personal development in terms of building confidence, authority and a strong legal reputation.
Formal training in advocacy is a relatively recent discipline. Previously, it had been assumed that advocacy skills could be obtained by learning by example and through observation, rather than being taught.
Based on a systematic six-step method devised by Professor George Hampel QC of the Australian Bar, structured advocacy training in the UK has been developed over the past 15 years. The method requires new legal practitioners and pupil barristers to serve as advocates in a simulated environment, under strict time restraints and supported by a trainer.
Advocacy trainers are experienced legal practitioners with training in advocacy teaching. The trainer will observe the performance of trainees and provide feedback. The Hampel method is the same training method used on Bar training courses offered by Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs).
Several organisations in the UK provide legal advocacy training, including the Law Society, which will teach you the key aspects of advocacy including:
Training courses also offer the opportunity to speak to other legal advocates, QCs and barristers to get advice.
If you want to become a barrister, there are currently four levels of training for the Bar. Three of these levels include compulsory advocacy training.
Advocacy is taught more than any other skill and is assessed on the Bar course. It is assessed through written and oral assessments including:
The vocational stage of training is delivered through a series of small group sessions and involve a range of civil and criminal scenarios in which students undertake regular advocacy practice sessions.
The core aspects of advocacy are taught in the Pupils’ Advocacy Course. Pupillage Advocacy Training must be completed within the first six months of pupillage. If the course is not completed successfully, the non-practising months of pupillage will be extended until the course has been completed satisfactorily.
If all the elements of training are not completed during pupillage, a full qualification certificate will not be issued – even if 12 months of pupillage have been completed. Without a full qualification certificate, it is not possible to obtain a practising certificate, meaning that you will not be able to enter into independent practise or exercise rights of audience as an employed barrister.
If you are a barrister who has held a practising certificate for less than three full calendar years, you will need to complete a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in accordance with the rules of the New Practitioner Programme (NPP). As of 1 January 2017, the requirement to attend accredited CPD was removed.
However, 45 hours of CPD must be completed within three calendar years, and at least nine hours must be dedicated to advocacy, while a minimum of three hours must focus on ethics.
If you are a practising barrister with more than three years of experience, and you have completed the NPP, you will need to complete CPD in accordance with the rules of the Established Practitioners Programme (EPP).
As of 1 January 2017, the CPD requirements for established practitioners include:
More solicitors are undertaking qualifications to become a solicitor advocate. A solicitor advocate is a legal professional who is fully qualified as a solicitor, but has the same ‘rights of audience’ as a barrister.
A solicitor advocate can represent clients in the following Courts:
Solicitor advocate brings together the roles of solicitor and barrister, enabling a legal professional to represent a client for the entirety of their case. Solicitor advocates tend to specialise in litigation in either criminal law or civil matters.
To become a solicitor advocate, you are required to obtain a Higher Rights of Audience qualification. This can be civil or criminal focused. If you want to be able to exercise higher rights of audience in both branches of law, then you will have to carry out two different assessments. These courses usually take a few days and are split into evidence & litigation and advocacy.
Generally, these courses include a written assessment and a practical assessment – including both oral assessments and an advocacy test. Whilst most providers highlight that you do not need any formal training in advocacy to undergo the assessments, these providers also offer such training and highly recommend undertaking it before you attempt the assessments to ensure success.
In order to obtain your qualification in Higher Rights of Audience, you will have to undergo an assessment by a provider accredited by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
If you are currently a law student and interested in advocacy, mooting is an effective way to practice your advocacy skills. A moot court hearing simulates real Court proceedings, and participants are asked to analyse a problem, research the relevant law, prepare written submissions and present an oral argument.
As per a real-life Court case, a judge will enter, mooters and the judge bow to each other, a clerk will announce the matter, mooters give their appearances and are then called to present their submissions. The judge will then ask the mooters questions, the Court adjourns and the judge will return to offer a judgement and give feedback.
Almost all universities that offer a law degree will have a mooting society. Mooting societies often organise ‘novice moots’ and introductory courses to help first-time advocates find their feet.
If mooting seems like a big leap, try attending Court to observe any trial. At Court, you can see real-life examples of advocacy in action. If you notice an advocate putting forward outstanding arguments, ask yourself why their case seems so powerful, make notes and enjoy the experience.
Observing a trial is an easy way to get a feel for what advocacy is like and witness impressive advocacy skills.
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