If you are considering a legal career, you may have heard the term ‘advocacy’ being cited as a key skill. But what is advocacy?
This page aims to provide you with everything you need to know about advocacy – from the key tasks involved to how to develop your skills.
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In short, advocacy is a skill. When a legal advisor puts forward a particular argument to a court with a view to persuading the court to come to a decision favourable to their client, that is advocacy.
However, advocacy can be both written and oral, and in actual fact it encompasses a whole range of skills which are invaluable to lawyers. To find out more about the key skills needed to be a good lawyer, visit our What Makes a Good Lawyer? page.
Advocacy encompasses a range of abilities including case analysis, drafting and using skeleton arguments, making oral submissions, cross-examining witnesses in criminal trials and being able to put forward a strong and persuasive case. You will need it whether you’re considering training as a solicitor or barrister.
Advocacy begins when you meet a client and continues as you research the case, prepare documents for trial and finally present the case in court.
It is often said that oral advocacy in particular is an art rather than a science. It is best done when the advocate stays true to their personality while putting forward a strong argument.
Advocacy can seem quite intimidating, not least due to the formalities of the courtroom.
For instance, senior judges should be addressed as ‘My Lord’ or ‘My Lady’, ‘Your Lordship’ or ‘Your Ladyship’. The opposing advocate is referred to as ‘my friend’ if they are a solicitor or ‘my learned friend’ if they are a barrister.
Finally, instead of saying ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’, advocates use phrases such as ‘I submit’ or ‘It is submitted that’. Nevertheless, you should not let the formalities intimidate you! With practice, these courtroom customs become second nature.
Both solicitors and barristers can advocate before a court.
An individual can also advocate on their own behalf before the court, the individual is then referred to as a ‘litigant in person’ because they have no legal representative advocating on their behalf.
Advocacy is most obviously 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, skills associated with advocacy are rarely confined to the courtroom. They apply to other forms of dispute resolution such as arbitration and mediation as well as to the work lawyers do with clients generally.
For instance skills such as researching areas of the law and presenting your findings are just as relevant when giving advice to a client as they are when you are representing a client in court.
Given that being a successful advocate involves mastering a whole host of abilities from public speaking to critical thinking, it is unsurprising that it is a highly sought after skill for lawyers.
Advocacy experience is highly prized by employers; not only does it improve communication and research skills, it also develops confidence and is a great test of academic ability.
Advocacy is essential for hopeful barristers, however, due to the range of skills advocacy encompasses its application is not even confined to a legal career. The ability to present, perform under pressure and analyse large quantities of information are extremely transferable skills and can come in useful in all areas of the law.
Any law student who has mooted at university will know that advocacy takes practice; this is partly because it involves such a broad range of skills. In fact, mooting is the best way to practice your advocacy skills as a law student.
A moot is a debate of legal issues raised by a hypothetical court case. In a moot you will debate the law and develop your ability to think critically and apply the law to the facts. Each mooter researches their moot problem, prepares a skeleton argument and a bundle of case and statutory authorities.
The advocates then have a set time to present legal arguments and respond to any interjections by the moot judge. The aim is to present the best arguments, and also to be the most persuasive advocate.
Almost all universities which offer a law degree will have a mooting society so there really is no excuse not to at least try it once! Mooting societies often organise ‘novice moots’ and introductory courses to help first time advocates find their feet.
Observing a trial
If mooting seems like a big leap at the moment, try going to court to observe any trial. There you can see real-life examples of good and bad advocacy. 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.
Ultimately, understanding what advocacy is and what it involves is clearly important for all lawyers, but actually gaining experience in advocacy is a great way to develop a whole host of skills and give your legal CV a big boost.
Words: Mariya Rankin
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