THE LAWYER AS ORATOR

A sensitive subject

The advocate (attorney; lawyer) as orator is a sensitive subject. Many clients will have listened with curled toes or alternatively with a deep feeling of embarrassment to their own advocate or (if they are lucky) to that of their counterparty at the moment suprême when the so-carefully prepared written summary of the argument is read out dryly and stumbling over the words or at least in a scarcely inspiring manner. And the one who has bad luck will be faced with a ‘read-out advocate‘ who sometimes does even thirty or more pages. And all this whereas the first Roman advocates were rhetorici: orators who excelled stylistically and ensured that their argument was presented such that it appealed to the general public (elocutio). In those days emotion had, more than nowadays, the power to convince, even in law. Logic did not play a prominent role in this connection.

Not everybody has it in him to be able to speak eloquently. But neither is this necessary. An advocate should be well-advised to behave as much as possible according to his constitution. It can obviously be sensible for instance to follow a presentation training, but a person should not try to be someone who is simply not him. His time and energy could much better be spent on substantiating his arguments as powerfully as possible, and in the logical structure of his argument in which he focuses on what it all actually boils down to: neither too many nor too few words either. After 20 minutes the attention usually slackens anyway. And hopefully he will only see his invoice paid for the result he has obtained, or in the unlikely event might not have obtained, for his client and not for the extent of the eloquence he has displayed. But it no doubt also happens that an advocate who gloriously loses a case sees his invoice paid because of his eloquence by a client who is in any event happy particularly for this reason.

Karel Frielink
Attorney (Lawyer) / Partner

(23 March 2011)

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