Advocacy skills – should I have been a Barrister after all?!
Since my last blog I’ve been so busy, the weeks are flying by. I’ve been to the Employment Tribunal a number of times (twice with just the barrister for company, which meant that I was the only representative from the firm there – quite a lot of responsibility but lots of fun). I’ve also been able to take a witness statement completely on my own which was daunting but really allowed me to get my teeth into the case.
So when I was asked to attend the PSC advocacy and communication skills course I jumped at the chance, as I was really keen to improve my presentation skills and see what being an advocate is all about. For those of you who don’t know, the PSC (Professional Skills Course) is a compulsory part of the training contract and advocacy is one of the modules that you have to do in order to qualify. The reason for this is that once you qualify as a solicitor you have rights of audience in a number of courts; also in the Employment Tribunal anyone is allowed to present a case and so it’s common for solicitors to do their own advocacy without instructing counsel.
The course started with some horror stories about how advocacy can go terribly wrong and what our biggest fears were. I confessed that my biggest fear is looking stupid and dropping my papers/falling over in open court (I’m very clumsy at the best of times). This really helped with the initial nerves and broke the ice, as no matter how useless you think you are there’s always someone who has had a worse experience than you. We then had some coaching on presentation skills and courtroom etiquette, before moving on to make submissions to a High Court master to apply for various orders. This was a good opportunity to practice the niceties and do a bit of public speaking.
The second day involved an application in the criminal court. Even though in my career I might never decide to do this, once I qualify I will have rights of audience in the Magistrates court and so the course has to focus on an element of criminal advocacy. The criminal scenario was cleverly written into the civil case study we were dealing with. This meant that we were able to focus on our advocacy skills rather than having to learn a whole lot of new facts. We practiced examination in chief, cross-examination and re-examination which was hard work but I really enjoyed it.
The third day was a mock hearing. Everyone was expected to contribute and we received feedback throughout the day. This was really useful and it was amazing how much we had all improved. We were expected to treat it as a formal hearing which involved lots of bowing, ‘mi Lords’ and ‘I put it to you’.
I was surprised by how my confidence grew throughout the course and I’ve now got the advocacy bug. I can also see how the techniques I’ve learnt will help me in the rest of my training contract, for example when participating in negotiations and giving presentations. I still have that fear of looking like an idiot in front of a judge though – maybe I’ll leave the advocacy to the Barristers for now!
If you have any questions about the PSC or the training we receive then please give me a shout.