Lecturer: Hugh Dillon (2013)
What is this course about?
The course is about mainly about courtroom advocacy but that involves much more -- how to be a good advocate is a technical, personal and moral issue. We touch on all those things -- the role of the advocate, the techniques of an advocate and the moral environment and ethics of advocacy.
Why does this subject interest you?
I am interested because I was an advocate and now I have been a member of the judiciary for nearly 20 years. I believe that advocacy is critical in our court system: and there are too many bad advocates. I am teaching young people because I hope that this will help some of them to become good advocates in due course.
Do you have any advice to students taking this course?
Yes! (a) study the Evidence Act -- read it from cover to cover two or three times; (b) read the Bar Rules (see the NSW Bar Association website); (c) google websites about Steve Jobs's presentation skills for hints on good and persuasive public speaking.
How will this course be relevant in the future?
The course will be relevant as long as we have courts.
Student: Brendon Green (2013)
Please give us a brief overview of the main topics studied in the course
The Essential Advocate is without a doubt one of the best undergraduate courses available.
It is taught jointly by Magistrate Hugh Dillon and Kirsten Edwards (a barrister) who run a series of practical exercises each week designed to teach the fundamentals and practicalities of legal advocacy. Generally speaking, each lesson the class is divided into small groups that are each given a particular role to play (e.g. prosecutor, counsel for the defence or a witness, etc.), and the class conducts a mock-trial acting in these roles. Following each exercise, an extensive debrief is conducted to identify areas for improvement. It is a course in which you must actively participate - without doing so, you cannot develop your experience and advocacy skills. There is a particular focus on practising cross-examination skills which, while nerve-racking for many students, provides excellent exposure to the basics. The main topics studied included advocacy as the art of persuasion; ethics and misconduct; preparation for trial; evidentiary and procedural issues in practice; opening and closing addresses; examination-in-chief and objections; cross-examination; and the use of written and oral submissions.
What were the course assessments and your thoughts about them?
30% of the assessment scheme is comprised of class participation and practical advocacy exercises. There is a 2000 word minor essay on advocacy worth 30%, and a final 3000 word assessment which involves you preparing a criminal brief for trial (including an outline of planned cross-examination technique).
What did you like about the course?
The course was highly engaging due to the significant roles that class participation and practical exercises play. The majority of class time is spent on preparing for exercises and then acting these out. Hugh and Kirsten devote the remainder of class time lecturing on the art of advocacy, which is presented in a variety of ways (including using audio-visual aids).
The course generally focuses on advocacy in criminal jurisdictions; however I recommend the course to all students.
Do you have any other thoughts or comments?
The focus of the class is on advocacy and strategy - therefore less emphasis is placed on learning and applying the law. With this said, Litigation 2 knowledge is vital as you will need to know the rules of evidence and apply them during the simulations. Likewise, the assessment structure revolves around understanding the facts in a given situation and then assessing and planning your arguments accordingly. The small class size, excellent teaching structure and regular opportunities to participate in a challenging yet exciting way make this a course that is easily recommended. As a final point: only take this course if you are prepared to participate and have a go – this isn’t a course that will suit people who don’t wish to engage.