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You don’t have to be a barrister to be a good advocate

Despite barristers traditionally doing the majority of advocacy work, this criminal solicitor has emphasised that solicitors can and should be undertaking advocacy work, too.

user iconLauren Croft 04 April 2024 SME Law
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Andrew Tiedt is an accredited specialist in criminal law and a director at J Sutton Associates. Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, he discussed solicitors being advocates for their clients – and revealed how he started being an advocate without being a barrister.

Barristers have traditionally done most of the advocacy work within the Australian legal profession – and Tiedt said there are still practitioners who “see certain things as something only a barrister should do” despite more and more criminal lawyers focusing on advocacy.

“I run many of my own jury trials, so I appear in trials without a barrister. That is something very unusual in private practice. I can count probably on one hand the number of private solicitors who are doing this kind of work. And that is a shame because there are many, many, in my opinion, criminal solicitors who have the skills and experience to do an outstanding job in trials. Now, I do not take the view that barristers should not be briefed. I brief about half my trials. Some are more complex; some have demands where that is appropriate,” he explained.


“But I think it is a real shame that some solicitors feel that snobbery or pushback, that you must have a barrister. Well, not necessarily. I think many more solicitors could do with some encouragement and a push along to say, no, you can do this and you should, if that is what you want to do and what is best for your client.”

To get to the point of advocating for his own clients, Tiedt said that he waited until he had experience in his position before eventually “taking the plunge”.

“There is a level of experience that you need to get. You would not want your first time popping into a trial to be without the assistance of a barrister. There is certainly an opportunity that you need to take to learn and to get the experience and to learn the ropes about how trials work. But I have always seen advocacy as court advocacy. [And] as the most challenging, interesting area of my work,” he added.

“It is the part I think I have the greatest skills to achieve good results for my clients, and it is something I have always wanted to do. And then, some matters came up where it seemed appropriate, and the client was happy, and I took the plunge and started running my own trials. So, it is something that happened, not as a great overarching goal that I had, but opportunities arose and the circumstances fit, and it is now something that I see as being the best and most enjoyable part of my job.”

However, Tiedt emphasised that trial advocacy is not for everyone.

“Advocacy is not for everyone. There are many people who are very happy to leave the talking to others, and that is a perfectly good and reasonable thing to do. There are also many people who are running the kind of matters where, given the scope and breadth of them, no one person could ever do that work on their own. So, I am certainly not saying that everyone should be doing it, and no one should ever be,” he outlined.

“Briefing the Bar is an incredibly important part of criminal justice in New South Wales. But I do think many more solicitors could take the opportunities when the time is right and the client is right and do that kind of work, because it is something that many people have the ability and capacity to do, but feel perhaps pressured not to do it themselves.”

However, advocates need “very distinct skills” to understand the different advocacy needed in different contexts, particularly when doing jury trial work and working with judges.

“There is a level of confidence and willingness to get up and give it a go that you need well, and that is not something everyone is equipped with. But I say to people, if they want to do more advocacy, they should be in courts as much as possible and then should take opportunities and push themselves,” Tiedt explained.

“We need to be, as advocates, confident. We need to be able to stand up and make an argument, even in the face of opposition, whether opposition is from the other bar table occupants or the bench, and do the best we can for our clients. And that is something I think many more people could do well to do.

“There are all sorts of advocacy training that is available, some formal, some informal. But there is no better training than being in court and watching masters of the craft do what they are doing. I have learned many, many skills, and I have lifted shamelessly stolen even lines from senior barristers I have briefed. You do need to find your own voice, and you do need to work out what works for you. But there is nothing better than watching someone who is really on top of the game and learn from what they are doing and, in that way, build your skill.”

Advocacy has traditionally been considered a skill only barristers practice, but while Tiedt emphasised that tradition remained important within the profession, the continuing evolution of the profession can mean that clients can be better served in 2024 and beyond.

“100 years ago, as I understand, there would be very, very few solicitors who would even consider going down to court, let alone standing and speaking to a judge. Times are very different. We have matured and evolved as a profession, and that is great, but we need to be thinking about what’s tradition for tradition’s sake and what is a way in which we can better serve our clients in the community,” he added.

“I love advocacy. It is why I do what I do. I tolerate all the other parts of my job, all the office work, all the preparation, all the reading. I tolerate that so I can go to court and make trouble. And I am always looking for new opportunities and new ways to do that. And if I am standing on two legs, I suppose I will be going down to court and doing the best I can for my clients.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Andrew Tiedt, click below: