adversarial advocacy


Yesterday, I delivered my keynote speech to law students at Brunel University, prior to running my Advocacy course this term. Here are some of the more salient points, I felt I should share, in terms of presentation, attitude, and delivery.

Adversarial advocacy is a polite contest between two sparring advocates seeking to persuade a Judge to prefer their argument, to that of their opponent.

You win by presenting a perceptively persuasive, and irresistible argument within the rules by not misleading the court, not losing your temper, and keeping a cool head, despite a Judge's questioning, berating, or anything else going on in a court at the time.

Understand and hone your skills of perspicacity: an ability to understand things quickly and make accurate judgments, especially in relation to the attitude and perceptions of the usher, the clerk, your opponent, your client, and the Judge. All of these people are linked. If you are excitable and arrogant outside of the doors of the court, it is gossip for the usher who tells the clerk, who tells the Judge, so be polite and respectful of everyone in the process. There is no need to ever be rude to court staff. Conversely, shmoozing has its place at appropriate times, but being a sycophant only seeks to annoy.

Watch the Judge's pen. Attune the speed of your delivery so that notes can be taken, and good points are not missed. A Judge asleep is a bad thing...A Judge who stops writing is a bad thing. A Judge who looks at the ceiling is not a good thing. A Judge who stares intensely at you is not a good thing.

Get into a rhythm when advocating. Try to deliver your points in threes. Stories naturally have a beginning, a middle, and an end. What is easy on the ear, is an argument that is put simply and unequivocally, and brings with it a sense of logic. Delivery having regard to the tone, and pitch of your voice, with adequate pauses, makes for receptive listening.

Be aware of your poise. Don't be a diva. Be humble, yet firm. Confident, but not arrogant. Be respectful, cool, calm, and collected. No over-dramatics. Don't become too emotional. Don't be intense. Rather, be measured in the presentation of your delivery. No hands in pockets; no fidgeting, no playing with your phones, no twirling of pens. All sound and movement can be seen from a higher vantage point where Judges usually sit, and it detracts from what you seek to say and is an unwanted and unnecessary disruption. The apparent ultimate standing angle in which one is likely to be most persuasive is 84.5 degrees. Good luck with that.


This blogpost is for information purposes and should not be relied upon as legal advice because it does not consider or take into account your own personal circumstances. If in doubt, seek legal advice.


When you think you are right and everyone else is wrong

Professor David Rosen is a solicitor-advocate, partner and head of litigation at Darlingtons Solicitors LLP. He is strategic legal advisor for diyLAW, a member of the Society of Legal Scholars amongst other memberships, and honorary professor of law at Brunel University where he regularly lectures on practical legal skills and procedure, and advocacy amongst other subjects.