Yesterday I participated in the Oral Advocacy Boot Camp held by the Ontario Bar Association.

I would like to share a few pointers from the event.

  1. There is only one podium. You own the podium until you start speaking, after that you share the floor with the judge and the witness.
  2. Pauses: Use pauses to help punctuate your points. Leave spaces on your paper to remind yourself to pause so the listener knows when one point ends and another begins.
  3. Take a breath instead of filling your statements with filler words like um, and, so, like etc.
  4. If you think that you are talking at the right pace, then you are talking too fast. The brain can only absorb so much information at a time.
  5. Persuasion: it is not what you say. It is what the listener hears.
  6. Be organized with your arguments – Point first.
  7. Keep eye contact with your audience.
  8. Regulate the tempo of your argument. Be arrhythmic.
  9. Speak simply. Always use a smaller word instead of a bigger word. Do not clutter the record with unnecessary phrases like: “I put it to you…”.
  10. Open-ended questions begin with who, what, where, when, how, and why.
  11. Closed-ended questions begin with a passive verb. The cross is the lawyer’s narrative said through simple, declaratory statements. Only one fact per question!
  12. Use a header question to signal to the judge when you are changing topics.
  13. Do not interrupt opposing counsel.
  14. Do not over identify with your client. Otherwise, you will lose perspective and provide less effective advice.
  15. Manage your appearance. No messy outfits. No messy collars. Do not wear vests that are too tight. Keep your hair out of your face. Do not play with change in your pocket. Do not sway back and forth. Basically, minimize all distractions so the judge can follow your argument. Watch your hand movements – do not over use them. Do not provide the judge with the opportunity to say (or think) “I can’t hear you over your brown shoes”.
  16. You have the right to be in the courtroom, to be heard, and to be treated fairly.