‘[There is]… a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.’ Ecclesiastes 3:7
By Robert Parness
One of the lessons which can be most difficult for an advocate to learn, certainly one with which I have sometimes struggled in my 20 years of Court work, is when to keep one’s big trap shut.
Anyone who regularly appears in Court will have encountered opponents who can only either be paid by the word or be gunning for Sir Nicholas Stadlen QC’s record for the longest speech in British legal history, which ended in May 2005 having lasted for 119 days.
There is the opponent who insists in analysing in forensic detail matters which are not in dispute or which are axiomatic even to the Judge, as well as the opponent so brimming over with righteous indignation and legal erudition that they simply cannot wait their turn to speak and feel compelled to interject constantly.
My own belief, for what it is worth, is that less is definitely more when it comes to advocacy. Every word out of your mouth is a potential hostage to fortune, so say only what you absolutely need to in order to convey your point to the Judge and then keep quiet.
A lesson which I learned through bitter, or at least embarrassing experience is that this discipline should also extend to the Court waiting room.
Pre Covid 19, certain Courts in the north of England operated a rolling list system where everything was listed at 10:00 a.m. in the hope that enough cases would settle so that the remainder could be heard.
I was instructed to attend a legal aid assessment in such a Court following the client’s complaint about the operation of the statutory charge.
Upon arrival, I discovered that there was a fast track trial in the list ahead of me which was projected to last for the entire day. I therefore made enquiries of the usher as to whether it would be possible to sneak in my half hour legal aid assessment first. The usher asked whether the client (whom I had never met) would be attending, whereupon I uttered the fateful words: ‘I don’t know, they’re a bit of a loose cannon.’
It was at this point that a voice behind me exclaimed, loudly enough to cause everyone in the crowded waiting room to turn and stare: ‘Excuse me, I am sitting right here!’
Needless to say, I would have been extraordinarily grateful if the Earth had deigned to open up and swallow me whole at that point and I learned a valuable lesson about saying only what is strictly necessary even in the waiting room.
Robert Parness is a Costs Lawyer with over 20 years’ experience in civil costs, representing both paying and receiving parties in all aspects of civil costs from Bill drafting through to detailed assessment hearings as well as advising clients on technical points of costs law.