Tips for better advocacy

  1. Prepare! Before attending court think through the submissions you will make. Articulate clearly the grounds on which you rely. Do not attempt to develop thoughts or submissions on the run. 
  2. Prepare! Do not repeat submissions made. Make the points you intend to rely on clearly and concisely. It will not aid your client to repeat submissions already made. Saying the same thing repeatedly only wastes your client’s and the court’s time.
  3. Prepare! Know the procedure of the Court. Understand the rules by which the court operates. Be familiar with the rules of evidence. Bring with you to court the Evidence Act 1977 (Qld),1 any legislation that relates to your case, and copies of authorities you intend to rely upon. Remember to always cite from the authorised reports – do not rely upon general statements of principles in the textbooks.2 
  4. Make yourself familiar with the courtroom. Understand the physical surrounds – make yourself heard, do not mumble or use a pitch that cannot be heard. Be clear and understand the acoustics of the courtroom.
  5. Respect the Court. Use appropriate and courteous3 language. Do not use slang – this only diminishes your arguments.
  6. We have a duty to be aware of the law and be prepared to assist the court in understanding legal principles and how it applies to the case being argued.4 
  7. Know the rules of the Court in which you are to appear as to whether you have a right of appearance.
  8. If you are not familiar with a matter, make enquiry of those in the firm who do.  Find out what you need to do. Ask for specific instructions – be prepared to respond fully to queries from the bench.
  9. In matters that require you to do so, remember to read the material you intend to rely on. Eg “If the Court pleases, the applicant relies on the following: Application filed on 1 January 2013; Affidavit of John Smith, filed on 1 January 2013.”
  10. Be mindful of your duty of candour – do not mislead the court.5

This note is based on the observations Magistrate Annette Hennessy made to delegates attending the Queensland Law Society Sunshine Coast Intensive, held at the Mantra on 29 August 2013. The writer thanks Magistrate Hennessy for her permission to share her thoughts.

1 J Forbes, Evidence Law in Queensland (2012, 9th ed, Thomson Reuters) provides reliable and comprehensive commentary on the Evidence Act 1977 (Qld). For example, it could assist you with how to prove a prior inconsistent statement, or the procedure to follow if you need to declare a witness hostile.

2 Jones v Baker [2002] NSWSC 89, [47] (Young CJ in Eq).

We have a fundamental ethical duty to be ‘[C]ourteous in all dealings in the course of legal practice’: Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 (‘ASCR’) r 4.1.2.

4 Accurate Financial Consultants Pty Ltd v Koko Black Pty Ltd (2008) 66 ACSR 325, [194] (Forrest AJA); See also ASCR (n 4) rr 19.6, 19.7, 19.8, 19.9.

5 ASCR (n 4) rr 19.1, 19.2.