Review of The Civil Advocacy Skills Book (Conway and McCann)

The Civil Advocacy Skills Book

Ronald E Conway and Bridget McCann, with Claire Anne McFadden


ISBN: 978-0993184802

PRICE: £20

A veteran caddie at the Old Course in St Andrews, himself a keen golfer, was once asked how much his game had improved by watching the world’s best close up. His response was that he learnt far more from the shortcomings of the average duffer. He almost certainly would have scoffed at the notion that practical skills can be taught in a book. But, then again, he hadn’t read this one.

What the authors are trying to pass on are practical tips to enable a lawyer at almost any level to develop and improve his or her advocacy skills. In his introduction Ronnie Conway points out that it is a mistake to assume that natural advocacy cannot be improved on. Indeed, with the decline in reading aloud, debating societies and opportunities for formal presentation, some of today’s newly qualified lawyers may have had fewer opportunities to practise these than their predecessors. But, as he continues, advocacy is something which can be learned by anyone with the necessary inclination and determination. Recognising the limitations of a book, he points out that, “like a tennis forehand you cannot simply acquire this skill simply by reading about it or by playing things over in your head”.

What makes this book different is the collaboration between Conway, an experienced solicitor advocate, and Bridget McCann. Having worked for years with lawyers on presentation skills, she brings to bear her experience as a successful actor, trainer and consultant. What makes it unique in my experience is the use of QR apps to take the reader to the relevant exercise on her website.

Probably the only quibble I have about the whole work is with the introduction itself. Conway downplays his personal input, which is quite superb. From simple checklists to expert tricks of the trade, and a wide ranging but concise exposition of the arts of examination and cross examination, the book is packed with valuable stuff. Claire Anne McFadden adds a little more of the same, highlighting the differences of approach which are essential in the area of family based litigation – one where, one suspects, more unhappiness is caused by our profession than by the actual breakups themselves.

Where were the Bridget McCanns when my generation was starting off? All of the comments which her consultees have made to her concerning the physical and mental terrors which they experienced in their early litigation days bring back vivid memories. She describes the advocacy part of the job as being among the “soft skills”, ones which cause the most anxiety, but get the least attention. How true. She deals with breathing and posture. She points out, correctly, that while actors spend years in voice training, litigators traditionally spend none. Speed, pitch, tone and accent are all addressed. In the case of the latter, the message is leave well alone, but do work on your grammar if it’s faulty. While it might be easy to scoff at an exercise entitled “The Flower and the Candle”, try it for yourself and feel the benefit. If you have ever come home hoarse after a full-on day in court, consider that you may not have done proper warm-up exercises or looked after the important muscles you have been abusing.

Add to all of these plus points an excellent little bibliography, and appendices full of top tips, and the net result is a book which is terrific in both content and value for money.


The Author
Tom Johnston, Ormidale Licensing Services
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