The best advocates are ‘simply born that way’, claims ex-Court of Appeal judge on his new blog

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By Alex Aldridge on

Third rate barristers can become second rate — but not great, says Sir Henry Brooke


Advocacy ability is something that you are born with, a former Court Appeal of Appeal judge has claimed on his new WordPress blog.

Sir Henry Brooke joined the legal blogging scene over the weekend and has already knocked out five posts — one of which contains some fascinating insights about the type of barristers and solicitor-advocates he has encountered over the years.

79 year-old Brooke, who used to practise from magic circle commercial set Fountain Court Chambers before becoming a judge way back in 1988, puts advocates in three categories: “third rate”, “second rate” and “really great”.

Of the first type, Brooke says there is hope, but only if they graft like crazy. He explains on his blog:

I have watched lots of third rate advocates become second rate advocates through sheer hard work. They learn the hard way to get rid of awkward mannerisms and to speak cogently and concisely and to understand what the court wants.

Sadly, though, this is the end of the line for these battlers who somehow manage to suppress their innate weirdness and inarticulacy.

Why? Because “the really great advocates are born, not made”, opines Brooke, before citing his top eight barristers.

They are, in no particular order, recent stars Jonathan Sumption (Boo! Hiss!), David Pannick and Sydney Kentridge; and past hotshots Bob Alexander, Tom Bingham, Gerald Gardiner, Desmond Ackner and Jimmy Comyn.

Of his dream team, Brooke reflects:

[They] didn’t get where they are by learning advocacy in a classroom and watching videos of themselves. They were just wonderful advocates the moment they opened their mouths.

Elsewhere in the blog post, which is headlined ‘A lifetime in the law’, Oxford classical literature and ancient history graduate Brooke reflects on how he has always felt “a bit of an outsider looking in” in view of the lack of lawyers in his family and the fact that he didn’t do a law degree.

The ex-top judge adds that he became a barrister with a view to giving the bar “a try for five years”. But when those five years had passed, Brooke found himself married with two kids and a mortgage, so “it wasn’t very sensible to give it up even if I had wanted to”.

Happily, some tough junior years subsided to a blissful end of career, with Brooke describing his time sitting in the Court of Appeal as “easily the happiest of my working life”. Towards the end, he remembers, “I used to tell myself how lucky I was that people were actually paying me for a job I enjoyed so much.”

Read Sir Henry’s blog here.