Judge Deborah Richards has a simple instruction when it comes to written submissions: make the judge’s job easier.
The President of the Children’s Court of Queensland explained this in her presentation “Finessing the Written Word”, delivered in Brisbane on Tuesday as part of the Queensland Law Society’s Modern Advocate Lecture Series.
“By the time the judge gets to court, she should have in her mind, if your written submissions are effective, that your case is strong, your arguments are easily understood, and the judge merely needs to listen to the expansion in the oral submissions to understand what must happen and the orders that must be made,” Judge Richards told the audience at Law Society House.
“By making the judge’s job easy, the written submissions allow for the judge to walk into court knowing the arguments, and being prepared to hear the finessing of the arguments in oral submissions, and the destruction of the opponent’s submissions.”
Judge Richards was admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1985. She held a variety of roles before being appointed a District Court judge in 1998, then to her current position in 2019.
“At the bar I always found written submissions very hard to get right. It’s difficult to write in a way that’s clear and easy for the person who receives the submissions to read, when they know nothing about the case and you know everything,” she said.
“However, the way of the courts now is to rely more and more on written submissions as a way to prepare and begin to understand a matter before heading into an oral hearing.”
Judge Richards pointed out the role of written submissions was to inform the court about the nature of the matter and the strength of the case to be advanced.
“Written advocacy, however, should not be confined just to submissions,” she said.
“Every stage of a proceeding is an opportunity to showcase your case in the most effective way.
“Pleadings, affidavits and witness statements should also be drafted with the ultimate goal in mind; that is, a successful resolution of your case.
“It is therefore an important skill to develop written submissions specifically, and written documents generally, which are persuasive, clear and to the point.”
Judge Richards explained the techniques to ensure written submissions were drafted and digested for maximum impact.
These included the use of correct pronouns and the proper framing of issues, though she said all submissions needed to be accurate, clear, logically presented, brief, written for an audience, and contain a beginning a middle and an end.
She reminded attendees that written submissions were used by judges at three stages of a matter: when they first turned their mind to the case, during oral argument, and when preparing reasons.
“Always bear in mind that what you are submitting is likely to be the first thing the judge reads. What you are submitting is your first chance to put your case in the best light, so the judge enters the court leaning towards your cause rather than your opponent’s,” she said.
Judge Richards said it might also be helpful to think of the three elements Aristotle regarded as the rules for conveying conviction: ethos, logos and pathos.
“Ethos relates to the author’s credibility or character; pathos refers to empathy, emotional appeal; and of course, logos is logic,” she said.
“Lawyers, generally speaking, focus on logical argument, but it pays to pay attention to all three.”
The lecture, worth 1 CPD point and free to Queensland Law Society members, was followed by networking drinks and canapes.
The Modern Advocate Lecture Series focuses on practical advocacy skills with an ethical perspective. The lectures are held three times a year at Law Society House, Brisbane. They are also livestreamed and recorded.