Keble Course 2011

Advocacy training for most practitioners starts at Bar school, continues during one weekend in the first three years of practice at the compulsory new practitioners program then grinds to a halt. Yet advocacy is the tool of our trade. It is what we rely on to earn money and why we wanted to do the job in the first place. So does it make sense that the nurturing and development of that skill stops at year three?

The Keble Advanced Advocacy Course seeks to remedy this problem. It is a six-day intensive course, which develops the participants’ advocacy to the highest level. It is held a Keble College Oxford each year in August and uses the Hampel method of teaching (for further information click here). It is organised by the South East Circuit, but available to all barristers.

Cost-Benefit Analysis
The course costs around £2,000.00 (including VAT) for civil practitioners and around £1,350.00 for criminal practitioners. It doesn’t feel cheap (although to get it for that price, it is massively subsidised) but you will get the cost back and then some applying the skills you are taught. The Inns now offer scholarships which provide money towards the course and some chambers also offer contributions. Tax and VAT recovery will also reduce the cost.

Fear Factor
Perhaps the thought of cross-examining in front of your peers fills you with dread? Add to that the teachers being the top lawyers from across the world including judges from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court, and, yes, it can be intimidating. However, as soon as you have performed your closing speech on the afternoon of day one, the collegiate and supportive learning environment kicks in allowing this fear to evaporate.

The course lasts six days (including a bank holiday and a Saturday) and requires a minimum of three full days preparation (which is essential) so it does require some potential billing time to be booked out of your diary, but believe me it is worth it. What you learn is invaluable and your advocacy will be advanced by many years.

In my group there was an advocate from Australia who hoped to apply for silk in two years and a fresh-faced tenant, and many in between. It was my preconception that the course was for junior juniors. There were many people there from that bracket but I believe that no matter what your experience this course will advance your advocacy. If you want that final push before you become silk or you are in a 10-year rut with cross-examination or if you think you know it all, each one of you would benefit from this course. The teachers have a passion for promoting outstanding advocacy throughout the profession. I challenge anyone to learn nothing from these people, in fact I defy anyone not to learn their £2,000 worth of knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed Keble although it is probably one of the most intensive weeks of my life. One QC told me if you can survive this, you can do any trial handed to you. There were too many highlights to discuss in this short article but the following represent some real gems from the course. Obviously getting cross-examination tips from the top was very useful, just as seeing the effect your body language has on your advocacy. Developing the skills of opening, closing, examination-in-chief, re-examination (and leaning when not to), case analysis, handling experts and skeleton arguments was very useful but the following especially stood out:

• Being taught to appeal by the Court of Appeal - Lord Justice Munby taught me how to appeal. Dos, don’ts, likes, dislikes from the bench itself. It doesn’t come much better than that. Practicing submissions in front of Lord Justice Moses and having his critique was equally invaluable.

• Advocacy lecture from Lord Walker - Any talk from Lord Walker, who is a strong pioneer of advocacy advancement which started when he was a barrister, is inspiring. His talk on appellate advocacy was no exception.

• Voice coaching - New to Keble this year was Lucy Cornell, a voice and performance coach. If there was any concern with the pitch or tone of your voice, or even the way you stand, Lucy was able teach you skills to use your body and voice to be a more persuasive interesting advocate.

• Vulnerable witnesses - No matter what area of law you practice you are likely to come across vulnerable witnesses, whether that be a child, an expert analyst with asperger syndrome or an alcoholic tenant. We were taught special procedures about cross-examining such experts to achieve a result whilst maintaining the utmost respect for the individual.

The course is intense but so rewarding and will advance your advocacy. To steal a line from another… Just do it!

Laura Tweedy is a barrister at Hardwicke Chambers