Leading advocates share tips at inaugural “Meet the QCs” event

Earlier this month, newly admitted lawyers had the privilege of meeting a contingent of Queen’s Counsel from the Auckland area at ADLS’ inaugural “Meet the QCs” event – a new event in ADLS’ calendar which builds on the success of our annual “Meet the Judiciary” evening.

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With the fortuitous timing of the recent round of appointments, ADLS had the opportunity to welcome a number of the newly minted QCs including Rachael Reed, Adam Ross, Jennifer Cooper and Simon Mount.

The event was very well-attended and young lawyers enjoyed the war stories, tips and advice shared by the QCs. ADLS Vice President Marie Dyhrberg QC asserted that young lawyers should, “Fight hard in your battle, but maintain respect, professionalism, honesty and integrity towards the Court, other counsel and your client.”

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Sir David Williams QC, who unfortunately was unable to attend the event, wrote a poignant letter to ADLS President Joanna Pidgeon expressing his regret that he could not be there and enclosing what he described as the “best statement on the technique of advocacy ever written”, which he hoped would be informative and applicable to those attendees who are just beginning their careers as advocates.

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Entitled “The Argument of an Appeal”, the article was written by former US Solicitor-General John W Davis and sets out how to structure an argument in Court, including:

  • "Change places, in your imagination of course, with the Court.” “Put yourself in the shoes of the Court. Specifically, think about what you would want to know about the case, how you would want it presented to you, what order you would want it unravelled, and what would assist you in finding the solution.
  • “State first the nature of the case and briefly its prior history.” Every Court has a long procession of cases before it. Remind the Court at the outset what the issues are, and how those issues came to be.
  • “State the facts.” Reciting the key facts of the case to the Court is paramount. “The statement of facts is not merely a part of the argument; it is more often than not the argument itself. A case well stated is a case far more than half argued.”
  • “State next the applicable rules of law which you rely on.” The Court appreciates counsel’s assistance in outlining the applicable law. Every advocate must be prepared to face the Court’s questions surrounding the law on which they rely – whether it be statute or case law and whether it be commonly relied on or not.
  • “Always go for the jugular vein.” Expend your energy and time focussing on the key points of the case; the subsidiary matters will fall in place around it.
  • “Rejoice when the Court asks you questions.” Questions from the Court show that the judges are listening and provide you with an opportunity to “penetrate the mind of the Court”. If a question from the Court promotes a negative answer or a concession, do not evade the question or shuffle around it; address it and move on. Do not believe that the Court is trying to fool you or trip you up, the Court is simply looking for answers and assistance.
  • “Read sparingly and only from necessity.” Look the judge in the eye when you speak. Only read from your papers when it is necessary to do so, for example, citing legislation or a quote from a case. You should know your case well enough to rely on bullet pointed notes, enabling you to speak freely with the Court.
  • “Avoid personalities.” Keep the Court focussed on the issues of the case, rather than distracting it with antics, temperaments, and denunciation of opposing counsel or witnesses. “Such things can irritate; they can never persuade”.
  • “Know your record from cover to cover.” Know your case. The Court or opposing counsel can, at anytime, test your knowledge. Be prepared and be confident to answer anything with reference to the file.
  • “Sit down.” When you are satisfied the Court has grasped your position, sit down. The time allocated by the Court “is not a contract”; if you wind up your case well within your allocated time, sit down.

ADLS and the Newly Suited Committee would like to extend our particular thanks to the QCs who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with the young lawyers. We thoroughly enjoyed your company and hearing your words of wisdom. The event was such a great success ADLS has decided to make “Meet the QCs” an annual event.

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The full version of the article mentioned by Sir David Williams QC, “The Argument of an Appeal”, by John W Davis (3 J. App. Prac. & Process 745 (2003) is available for free download at http://lawrepository.ualr.edu/appellatepracticeprocess/ol3/iss2/22. We encourage all newly suited lawyers to read the article, and indeed the straightforward advice it offers is a good reminder of the importance of good advocacy, in addition to good argument, at any stage of your career. 

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