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Monday, September 6, 2010

The Advocate's Drive - a Need to Win or Avoid a Loss

Commanded by Blog Master Behan to write something that connected summer to advocacy I winced as I read the various well thought out, eminently reasonable contributions about advocacy from sundry bloggers these past few weeks.

My wincing was a form of avoidance. Unable to match the seriousness of their topics and the elegance of their writing I feared the inevitable, adverse comparisons.

While searching for an escape or, failing that, a topic that made me a very, very small target, I reviewed my collection of advocacy titbits. These are pages that I have torn from casefiles, textbooks, and course notes these past two decades because the text captured my attention, gave me a new insight, or demanded some reflection by me.

I found, and it was a surprise, that when I sorted out all these scrappy notes the dominant topic was the need to note down an insight that might be needed again (be it an evidentiary foundation, or an instruction on how to achieve some questioning purpose, or how to accentuate an aspect of personal style), and then to collect those notes in a manner that ensured they were easily found when needed. (How lucky are today’s advocates with the search routines that are just taken for granted. Indexing is a task of the past. Search by term and all your discreet references come together on one, new screen page.)

The result is my Book of Advocacy Tips and I’m ever so grateful for the work of various writers who have made invaluable suggestions for it. Without it I will not produce a good trial notebook, or efficient preparation, and I will lack a sense of security that my preparation and delivery will be adequate.

On the matter of ‘adequacy’ I was co-teaching an advocacy class very recently. My colleague, an excellent teacher and a good advocate, gave away his place on the path of life by telling the class that, “Of course, you have to make yourself believe you can win. Lacking that determination you can’t be persuasive”. I didn’t interrupt, nor did I correct. After all he’s entitled to be wrong for at least another twenty years. During that time he’ll find the wisdom that the important aim is to minimise the extent of any loss. This requires considerable attention to persuasion. It is often more than adequate. Winning is just a bonus.

Another reason to leave well alone was that his ignorant audience of eager, young students, think as he does: winning is everything. Winning makes it right. He was, no doubt unconsciously, meeting their need to have their emotional demands approved. Now if he or I had just taken his comment and used it to drive home the point that figuring out and meeting the needs and wants of the various audiences is a critical component in all persuasion - then that would have been truly effective teaching. Sadly, as so often happens in real life advocacy and in advocacy teaching, it is Ol Hindsight who seems to know best.

It was he who told me to keep it short. ‘The readers will come back if you’re not a bore’, he said. ‘ And, if you are a bore, let em off early.’ So off you go. I’ll be back.

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