The Articulate Advocate

By Brian K. Johnson and Marsha Hunter

Date of Publication: 2016

218 pages


What Is This Book About?

In The Articulate Advocate: Persuasive Skills for Lawyers in Trials, Appeals, Arbitrations, and Motions by Brian K. Johnson and Marsha Hunter, readers experience a very organized layout of how they can improve their oral advocacy. The book is split into 5 sections, and it is very clear and straightforward. The sections focus on Your Body, Your Brain, Your Voice, How to Practice, and Applying Your Skills at Trial.

What Did I Like About the Book?

The first thing I loved about this book was its organization. I cannot express how clear everything is in this book. The authors broke everything up into sections, making it obvious to the reader what is being conveyed in each chapter. You know exactly what you’re supposed to learn and take away. This book is an easy and natural read. I also loved the visual aids throughout the book. In every section, if what the author is saying can be conveyed visually, there are little sketches included to help the reader consume the material visually as well. This helps the reader know exactly what the authors mean by their hand gestures, foot positions, or even lung anatomy!

The next thing I liked about this book were the constant analogies made between advocates and athletes. I could see this being something that someone may dislike about this book if they’re not interested in sports. But for me, being a former athlete, it made this book more relatable and familiar. For example, in the section about Your Body, the authors discuss the importance of “Creating Your Own Performance Ritual” and they write, “[s]ports psychologists teach that if you want to perform at a high level, you need a consistent mental and physical ritual on which to base your performance. The function of this ritual is to enable the mind, through repetition and practice, to control the body, and to enable the body to control the mind. Together the body and mind help control emotion.”[1] Another good excerpt is in the section about Your Voice, where the authors suggest to “Visualize Your Performance” and write about how sports psychologists suggest to athletes that they visualize their action prior to competing because “[v]isualizing an action that has been ingrained through practice frees you to gesture with even greater skill and confidence.”[2]

The Your Body section goes into heavy detail about positioning your body to articulate for your audience, but I liked the part when the authors spoke about how important our gestures are as advocates. Specifically, when they mention how a study “reported that people comprehended spoken sentences twice as well when gestures accompanied speech as when gestures were absent.”[3] A common dilemma among new advocates is using either too many gestures because it is just how they talk, or too few for the same reason. By noting the importance of gestures, the author invites us to view our delivery from a new perspective and become mindful of our gestures because they are another tool in our advocate’s toolbox.

Along with the discussion on gestures, Johnson and Hunter show us some gestures to avoid, like finger wagging at the jury, and they mention what they call the “political thumb puppet.” This is when your thumb sticks up over the index finger of a loose fist. The authors stress the importance of credibility here, a theme we have seen in every book reviewed so far, and write, “[y]our credibility will not be enhanced if you look like a politician”[4] and that quote gave me a good chuckle.

Lastly, I loved the subsection under Your Brain about Using Electronic Evidence in the Courtroom. While I wish that we never had to experience this pandemic in the first place, it certainly has revamped the world of technology, and enhanced our skills in ways I’m sure no one even imagined were possible. This subsection walked readers step-by-step through exactly how to be successful using electronic evidence with tips like “1. Identify what is on the screen for the record” and “2. Tell the jury what they are looking at.” Noting that this book was published in 2016, which was pre-coronavirus, I would be interested to see how this part may be “rewritten” or what the authors would have added, now in 2022 with proceedings on Zoom becoming not only more prevalent, but permanent in some instances.

What Didn’t I Like About the Book?

As I said, this book is very clear and straightforward, so honestly, there was not much that I disliked. The main thing overall was that it wasn’t the most “interesting” book. Personally, I prefer books such as Booklore #4, Ten Great American Trials: Lessons in Advocacy. I spend a lot of time reading academic works and textbooks, so it’s nice when a book is structured like Ten Great American Trials: Lessons in Advocacy and includes a lot of “stories.” There was not anything necessarily wrong with this book, it just wasn’t the most interesting to me in terms of style and keeping my attention.    

What Did This Book Teach Me About Advocacy?

In every book we’ve read so far, all the authors across the board have mentioned in some way or another: in order to succeed in advocacy, we must be ourselves. While this book stayed true to that, Johnson and Hunter brought up an interesting topic when they discussed, The Paradox of Naturalness, and stated advocates “need to consciously employ certain unnatural behaviors to look and feel natural.”[5] The authors argue that when a person is acting naturally, they aren’t self-conscious, and vice versa. In order to be a successful advocate, we can’t just tell ourselves to be natural, because otherwise we won’t be fully conscious of what our natural behavior is. The key is finding the balance and mindfully acknowledging what natural means for us personally, not for our friends or fellow advocates.

The most important part of this book occurs in the How To Practice section. As training advocates, we are aware of our weaknesses. For some, we may sway back and forth when we talk, like a boat lost at sea. Others may talk too quickly, never giving their listeners enough time to process what they are saying. But, in this book there is a subsection called, Exercises to Solve Specific Problems. Under this subsection is a specific problem, for example, “I talk too softly” and outlined detailed exercises to combat that problem. This is incredibly helpful for advocates, because once you become aware of your weaknesses, it then becomes time to tackle them, and it’s important to know how.    

How Am I Going to Be Able to Be a Better Advocate Because of This Book?

This book employs a lot of foundational ways to help advocates break those bad habits we sometimes may find ourselves getting too intertwined with. One way is to remember the Three Rs of Natural Gesture: ready, release, and relax. The first R refers to ready, which means putting your hands in the ready position so that they’re ready to gesture. The ready position is a position where your elbows are at 90 degrees, but your hands are still open and ready to begin gesturing to your audience. The next R is Release, and it requires you release your gestures as soon as you begin talking, don’t wait. The third R is relaxing. Don’t forget to let all the tension out of your arm muscles and let your arms drop gently to your sides and hang there briefly as well. Even when you’re advocating, you still want to be comfortable.

Another thing this book mentioned about advocacy that I had never really thought about before, was reminding us that we as advocates cannot worry too much about the facial expressions of jurors. It’d be easy to get all caught up and worry what was wrong, or why they were looking at you like that. That can’t be our main priority and in fact, the authors write that as advocates, we may “find these stoic expressions intimidating and distracting yet they are natural for jurors listening to [us]. It is not their job to telegraph their responses with nods, smiles, or frowns.”[6]

Going off how jurors respond to our words, I particularly felt I learned a lot from this quote about meaningful pauses: “If you want to persuade people, you need to give them time to reflect. They aren’t persuaded by what you say as you are saying it; they are persuaded when they have a moment of silence to think about what you just said.”[7] Speed is one of my weaknesses as an advocate, and I must admit, sometimes silence makes me a little uncomfortable, so meaningful pauses aren’t necessarily a strong suit of mine either. However, this quote really helped put things into perspective about how important it is to give the jury time and space for them to really think about and process what I’m saying.

Lastly, this book stresses the importance of not talking to your notes, and instead, talking to your audience. Most of the time, advocates use their notes as a crutch. They don’t really need them and could “walk” just fine on their own, but it’s comforting to “lean” against something. The authors have a subsection devoted to this idea when they talk about how it’s important to Plan to Forget. Essentially, they argue that so many advocates cling to their notes because they’re afraid: “What if I forget?” Instead, they encourage us to switch our thinking, and ask ourselves, “When I forget, how will I recover?” We are advocates, but we are also human, so this is normal. Know that this is going to happen, and plan for when it does.

[1] Brian K. Johnson and Marsha Hunter, The Articulate Advocate: Persuasive Skills for Lawyers in Trials, Appeals, Arbitrations, and Motions, 15 (2016).

[2] Id. at 140.

[3] Id. at 30.

[4] Id. at 50.

[5] Id. at 7.

[6] Id. at 60.

[7] Id. at 71.