In this post I am recommending you read The Art of Advocacy: Twenty Tips for your First Court Appearance”  a post on the “Survive Law” blog.  Unlike the other posts in these series this is written by Jennifer who was a bench clerk in New Zealand for 12 years. As such she has seen lots, and lots, of advocates.


“I have had the immense good fortune to work as a bench clerk for numerous Magistrates hearing thousands of cases across the summary jurisdictions in my state. I have seen outstanding advocacy and roaring submissions delivered with passion and grace, as well as profusely sweating, mumbling, fidgeting, woefully unprepared counsel. I have, albeit rarely, seen a self-represented litigant act with more skill and panache than a senior member of the Bar. There is an art to advocacy.”


  • ” Remember that someone is always watching you wherever you are in the building and word quickly gets around. It should not surprise you to know that the clerk in your court does discuss you with the Magistrate/Judge before they enter the court. Make sure that you leave a favourable impression, which leads me to tip #2.”


  • ” Use your manners. With EVERYONE. Mind your Ps and Qs with court staff, police, other lawyers and most of all your clients.”

Dealing with the client and the other side


  •  “Introduce yourself to opposing counsel. Write their name on your note pad so you don’t forget it. Make small talk. You are not enemies.”


  • ” Keep your client in the loop. Some lawyers pass notes and some prefer to wait for the adjournment to discuss the events of the hearing. Talk to your client in language they understand, and do what you can to show your client that you “get” them and where they are coming from. I have noticed over the years that a well-informed client seems to be a much more settled client.”

Don’t demand

  •  “It is never a good idea to use the phrase, “I demand that Your Honour…” Just don’t.”

Are we half-hearted – no.

  • “Regardless of the case, believe in your submissions. The court can tell when it’s half-hearted and when you are just going through the motions. Give your client a passionate and engaged advocacy”

Be still when the oath is being sworn

This is something that is being forgotten. The rule/tradition was that everyone in court is silent and still when the oath is being sworn.

  • “Do not move a muscle when a witness is being sworn in. If the oath is interrupted by anything at all, the clerk must start the swearing in all over again”.

Be honest about time estimates

  • “Be honest with the court about your case and timeframes. If you have 35 witnesses, don’t round it down. If the case runs over and the Judge/Magistrate needs to find time in a very busy diary to finish the case, they will not think highly of you.”