Feature: How to be Persuasive in Court by Iain Morley (Advocacy Skills)

3 comments, posted on February 25, 2013

Iain Morley is a barrister and practices in criminal law from chambers at 23 Essex Street, London. Author of ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ (Sweet and Maxwell), the definitive title on Advocacy Skills.


When speaking, SPEAK FROM YOUR LUNGS, not from the back of your throat.Robert Llewellyn/Corbis REUTERS

The voice is more powerful from the lungs and carries further, without sounding as
if it is a shout. Also, the voice is DEEPER. Deeper voices sound more persuasive
– why, is a mystery, but they just do. Tinny, light voices can sound plaintive, weak,
sometimes desperate, appear to be shouts, sound out of control, and finally and most
importantly, are difficult to listen to, and so in the end they can be ignored.

A deeper voice is also naturally SLOWER in delivery. This does not mean it
proceeds at a snail’s pace. Rather it is simply easier to consume and understand its
content. Just how slow is good is a subject for later, but for the moment, as a general
principle, slow is better than fast.



Once you open your mouth, people start forming judgements.

Please do not try to be someone you are not.

Advocates need only remember the rules of law, evidence and conduct, good manners
and at all times deference to the judge.

Within these constraints, BE YOURSELF.

There is no need to change your accent. If you normally gesticulate, within reason use
gestures where helpful. Vary your tone and pace, just as you would in conversation.

Project yourself, not just the case.

This is an area which often troubles advocates. On the one hand, a court is not a
coffee morning, ripe for cheery chat and easy banter. But on the other hand, all around
you are real people. Real people relate to each other through their personalities. A
court will best relate to you through yours.

Advocacy is not a science – it is an art. It does not work to hide our personalities
behind passionless question structures, and carefully prepared legal submissions. A
correctly phrased question to a witness, if delivered boringly and in a monotone, will
usually have nothing like its intended effect. So much more is communicated by you
as a person than simply what you say: people look at how you say it, with what tone,
with what expressions, and with what body language.



Judgement is what you are paid for. You must have this if you are to be any good. It
is your greatest necessity as a lawyer. Whether you have it or not is usually a question
of talent, feel, common sense, understanding of the law, experience and occasionally
cunning. It cannot be taught.

We must each have the confidence to form our own judgements on issues.

We must each have the talent to get it right more often than not.

Each advocate can be (and usually is) different on the precise view to be taken on
some point. If in your judgement a point must be taken, listen carefully to your judge,
listen carefully to your opposition, consult others, but if your judgement remains the
same, and you risk not being liked for it, follow your judgment not your popularity.

Iain Morley has been involved in defence pro bono work at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and  since March 2005  he has been in Tanzania, assisting the United Nations to prosecute the 1994 Rwandan genocide of the Tutsi at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. He is at present a well-known practitioner in the law and evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

The Devil’s Advocate, is available from bookstores and Amazon.co.uk. The title is also available as a Kindle eBook from Amazon.co.uk.

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