The Ancient Art of Advocacy Logo

Finding your way around - what you can learn on this website

The traditional way of studying to become an advocate involved:

  1. Studying what the great legal orators had to say about the aims and objectives of opening speeches, statement of facts, legal arguments, witness handling, EIC and cross examination, re-examination and closing speeches.
  2. Learning the different rhetorical techniques, and learning when individual rhetorical techniques could help make your arguments more persuasive, and which techniques you could use when opening, giving a statement of facts etc
  3. Reading, studying and analysing court transcripts from some of the great barristers of all time, analysing how they met the objectives described above, analysing what linguistic techniques they used to persuasive effect, and studying what techniques they used to make their arguments irrestistable. (Standing on the shoulders of giants)

This was the default method of studying to be an advocate for about 2000 years, so there is a lot that can be learnt in copying that approach. This website copies those three core elements including hints and tips on each stage in a trial from the great legal orators, information on rhetorical techniques and court transcripts drawn from legal history. However, as it is a smorgasbord of advocacy resources you can meander around the website in whatever way works for you. So if you are particularly interested in reading about the aims and objectives of each stage in a trial you can go to the section on the structure of a rhetorical argument, whereas if you are fascinated with language and want to learn more about legal rhetoric and rhetorical techniques, then you can studying the rhetoric course and also work your way through the rhetorical guide. Finally, if you are just interested in legal history then you can find transcripts of cases here, and also find details of interesting historical cases in the "lessons you can learn from history" below.

To help you understand the structure of the website: 

The Rhetoric section of the website covers:

  • A course on rhetoric offered by Professor Drout to help you learn the basic principles
  • Information on the five canons of rhetoric which include identifying the arguments you can make, hints, tips and how to guides from the great legal orators regarding the structure of your argument (covering the opening speech/introduction, statement of facts, legal arguments, evidence for and against the case theory and a closing speech), information on rhetorical techniques you can use and when to use them, how to memorise a speech and finally how to deliver it. 

Introduction/opening speech, which covers

Once you have read this section, one option is to then go on to studying the different rhetorical techniques that you can use to establish ethos, which you can find here

You can then go on to study some great examples of opening speeches, so you can see the above techniques in action. The section "Practicing and learning from opening speeches includes some exercises that you can do, to help you learn these techniques. If you want to develop this further then you may want to read and study some further examples of Curran's speeches. Erskine's speeches are also worth reading, and you can find details of Erskines speeches under the section on Advocacy Training Resources. 

Once you have worked your way through opening speeches you can then mirror the same approach in relation to the other parts of a trial.

The Statement of facts, which covers:

Once you have studied the key aims and objectives in relation to a statement of facts, you can then go on to study the different rhetorical techniques that are particularly useful to draw upon when drafting a statement of facts. You can find details of these techniques in the rough rhetorical guide. A good idea is to read some speeches, such as those of either Curran or Erskine, and see how many rhetorical techniques you can identify in the speech, and think about why that specific technique has been used.

Once you have got to grips with the various linguistic techniques you can usefully use in a statement of facts, you can then go on to study "Painting pictures with words - a key skill, "Practising and learning from statements of facts", and "How to practise drafting statement of facts.

Legal arguments, which covers:

You may also find it useful to read about the topics of invention. Invention, in a legal rhetoric sense, refers to the techniques you can use to identify the main arguments you can use, and you can find information on that here.

Legal arguments rely largely on logical inference and deductive reasoning, and in terms of rhetorical techniques the figures of logos and reasoning fit well here. You can read more about the figures of logos and reasoning in the rough rhetorical guide.

You may also find it useful to refer to the following chapters of Professor Drouts rhetoric course which covers logical reasoning and identifying logical fallacies:

There are also a range of books and Audible resources on logic, logical fallacies and reasoning which may be worth getting if you find that aspect of logos interesting. The ancient rhetoricians believed that a persuasive argument involved demonstrating the ethos of the advocate, putting forward a logical and coherent argument, and tempering that with emotional appeals as well. Logical reasoning or logos is therefore a key aspect of a legal argument, and being able to identify the logical fallacies in your opponents argument is a skill worth developing. 

Evidence - evidence that supports your case theory - covers witness handling, examination in chief and re-examination, and includes:

You can find details of the rhetorical techniques you can use when witness handling in the rough rhetorical guide

You can find further examples of examination in chief and re-examination under the Advocacy Training resources section, for example in the case of M'Naughton which you can find in the "Historically interesting speeches and trials" and also under the section on Scottish trials.

Evidence that is likely to undermine your argument - cross examination, which covers: 

Once you have done that you can you can go and study the rhetorical techniques you can use during cross examination, such as the figures of refutation, by going to the rough rhetorical guide

You can find further examples of cross examination, which you can analyse or use to practise your own cross examination technique under the Advocacy Training resources section, for example in the case of M'Naughton which you can find in the "Historically interesting speeches and trials" and also under the section on Scottish trials.

The closing speech

This section includes a detailed analysis of the purpose and features of a closing speech or peroration, and there is also a section on what tone to use when closing, including a description of Erskine giving a closing speech in the case of the dean of St Asaph, who was tried for seditious libel.

The closing speech is the part of a trial where the figures of rhetoric come to the fore, as that is the point (according to the Ancient Rhetoricians) that you bring together ethos (credibility), logos (logic) and pathos (emotional appeals) into one powerful and persuasive whole. Therefore, this is the point where the more you understand the different rhetorical techniques the better, although obviously bear in mind what is appropriate for that audience and given the circumstances surrounding the case.  You can find details of all these techniques, which you can then study if you want to, by going to the rough rhetorical guide

Having studied these rhetorical techniques you may find it helpful to go and read some of the brilliant closing speeches by either Curran or Erskine, or any of the other closing addresses found anywhere in the Advocacy Training Resources section. You can analyse these in terms of their structure or their use of language, or just marvel at some of the brilliant advocacy you can find in that section, which is well worth a read. Some of it is jaw-droppingly good!

Advocacy Training Resources

The Advocacy Training Resources section includes transcripts of trials, with sections devoted to both Curran and Erskine. There are also a number of historically interesting trials, and the transcripts from those trials, including trials from England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. 

One of the long term objectives with the website is to identify examples drawn from actual cases of all of the above rhetorical techniques being used, informally known as the "Where's Wally Rhetoric project". When you are reading through some of the cases found on the website from some of the great legal orators such as Curran and Erskine who were masters of legal rhetoric, if you find examples of some of these individual rhetorical techniques, then please let us know which rhetorical technique you have spotted, where you found it (case and page number) and your name, and we will upload that example onto the website as a legal example under that specific rhetorical technique, and we will credit the name of whoever identified it. So you can use the "Where's Wally Rhetoric project" to help you to develop your own knowledge of rhetorical techniques. For example, when you are looking at statements of fact, you can identify what rhetorical techniques might be important in that task from the rough rhetorical guide, and then go on to actively look for examples of those techniques when you are reading the court transcripts in the section on " Practising and Learning from Statements of Fact".  You can apply the same process in relation to the other parts of a trial as well.

Further projects you can get involved with

As well as the "Where's Wally Rhetoric project" there are some other projects that you are welcome to take part in such as:

Open to all: Preparing biographies of the great legal orators  throughout history who often took advocacy further along its path, such as Socrates, Cicero, Quintillian, Aristotle, Coke, Bacon, Cowper, Yorke, Murray, Burke, Sheridan, Garrow, Brougham, Scarlett, Erskine, Romilly, Copley, Curran, O’Connell, Phillips, Kenealy, Parry, Ballantine, James, Digby –Seymour, Hawkins, Clarke, Holker, Hardinge-Giffard, Russell, Isaacs, Muir, Wrottesley, Carson, Smith, Marshall- Hall, Hastings and Curtis-Benett, and Birkett.

By putting together potted histories of these great advocates students would then understand how some of the great advocates from the past shaped the Bar we have today. So if anyone wants to be involved in that please get in touch via the contact form. Biographies should include a picture of the advocate, a description of any of the above advocates personal histories, descriptions of their careers, the significance of the cases in which they appeared, and links to examples of their advocacy, which you can usually find on either the British Library or on 

One of the aims in creating an advocates noticeboard, which lists advocates in terms of year of call, is that it enables the history of the Bar to be visually represented. It also means that it is possible to chronicle when the first women and people of colour started to join the Bar and show how diversity at the Bar has increased over time. So if anyone is interested in getting involved just get in touch!

Open to QC's: Whilst there are lots of transcripts of great speeches on this site, speeches are supposed to be narrated and listened to - they are part of an oral tradition, and not really designed to be read. So if any QC's (male and female) fancy narrating these speeches so people can listen to them being declaimed by someone who knows what they are doing, that would be great. You can use free recording software programmes, such as Audacity, to record the speech, and that can then be included under the transcript of that trial.