Welcome Remarks for Litigation Conference 2021
Minister Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law
Deputy Registrar Phang Hsiao Chung, Supreme Court of Singapore
Felicia Tan, Co-Chairperson, Civil Practice Committee, the Law Society of Singapore
Ian Lim, Co-Chairperson, Organising Committee, Litigation Conference Workshop 2021
Ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the inaugural, unprecedented hybrid edition of the Litigation Conference! Growing from strength to strength unimpeded by the global pandemic, our numbers for this year’s conference are a record breaker. 1,012 virtual participants and 110 in person.
Considering this audience, I devote myself in these welcome remarks of this Litigation Conference to online hearing advocacy.
Virtual hearings have become the new normal in the last year. The surmise or prescience that many of us subscribe to is that VCH is here to stay, even in a post-COVID-19 environment. Practitioners here have had a taste of the same and savoured its side benefits including reducing travelling time and attendant costs. It also literally comes closer to a utopian or dystopian future visionary sketch (depending on whether your view is that the glass is half full or half empty) of the lawyer of tomorrow. The lawyer and a laptop. As I shared in my Opening of Legal Year (OLY) speech this year during a hybrid OLY ceremony “We have seen a remarkable maturation of Court hearings. Through judicial leadership by Your Honour, Chief Justice, innovative online court hearings involving Zoom technology are living reality. We have these means only because, first, our judges are tech-savvy, and secondly, the state of the art of today’s technology.”
In the short time I have for these welcome remarks, let me share seven practitioner tips on virtual or online hearing advocacy or (what has also been called) tele-advocacy. These remarks will not repeat or reiterate the invaluable wisdom in Justice Aedit Abdullah’s SAL article in April last year on “seven tips for online advocacy” focussing substantially on technological and practical pointers. In His Honour’s words writing extra-judicially in that piece: “Virtual hearings can be daunting to some, but the right mindset and preparation makes all the difference”. I commend that article to you for your edification.
On this occasion, I will not focus on the technology aspects but instead on the art of persuasion in the new normal.
The same principles of effective advocacy apply for online hearings. Quoting Sally Pretorius and co-author Elizabeth Lippy in a blog post “Tips for Honing ‘Tele-Advocacy’ Online Skills”,
“This is not a time, however, to leave our litigation background and trial advocacy teachings at the door. It is simply a time to adapt.”
So here are the seven practitioner tips.
#1 Start strong. An impactful beginning like the captivating tabloid headline will keep your audience, the Judge, engaged to listen to you. This is the proverbial hook. The attention grabbing opening statement so that the listener wants to hear your argument. Some have also described this as leading with your strongest point. That is conceptually separate albeit a related aspect. A good opening will subsume your best argument or incorporate a big picture statement on case theory or the deeper theme of the case.
#2 Stay succinct. Keep it short and pithy. Prepare the most efficient and concise manner to present each argument. Enough said.
#3 Simplicity and clarity. Spend your time to make your case as clear as possible. You do not want to be as “clear as mud” to borrow an expression used by a sitting Supreme Court Judge. There is also the phenomena of Zoom fatigue. Neuroprocessing studies show how our brain is on hyperdrive (in part to process the non-verbal cues). This could be a case of too much of a good thing! So overly complicated analysis and complex language would be lost in a Video Conference Hearing because of the limited attention span. Judges may be facing their own tech issues too listening to you.
#4 Signpost and structure your outline. Tell the Judge in advance how many points you have and how you intend to present them. Then outline your main arguments and signpost what you will be covering and the sequence involved. I have finished four points. Starting strong. Staying succinct. Simplicity and clarity. Signposting and structure. I have three more points to go.
#5 Summarise and pause between each point. The use of a well-crafted summary to round up a section of your submission serves to reinforce your main submissions. It keeps you focussed on your main argument. Not missing the forest for the threes. Check if the Judge is with you. Ask if the Judge needs any clarification before you move to your next point. Tell the Judge as and when you are moving to the next point. I now move on to my second last point.
#6 Silences and speaking after being spoken to. I am not saying mute yourself. Don’t interrupt a Judge when they are speaking or asking a question during your submissions. Wait for the Judge to finish. Then and only then should you answer the question posed by the Judge or take the cue from what the Judge has said. Likewise, don’t interrupt your opponent unless it is absolutely necessary.
#7 Share screen judiciously for effective advocacy. Have all reference materials at your fingertips (or accessible on your laptop), in case the Judge asks for it. Download it and Share Screen (if using the Zoom app) when you need to have an audio-visual impact. The effective use of this “show and tell” with your strongest documentary evidence or (for appellate advocacy) trial transcripts will enhance your trial advocacy.
There you have it. Seven practitioner tips for online hearing or video conference hearing advocacy.
Finally, I am grateful to 2nd Minister for Law, Minister Tong, for proactively, patiently and painstakingly engaging with the Bar on the civil justice reforms. You have consistently shown sincerity and lent an active listening ear to hear us out even if not all our perspectives are ultimately accepted. In particular, we are grateful for accommodating the Law Society’s feedback on the civil justice reforms. The Bar eagerly awaits your speech this morning on the harbinger of changes to be wrought to our civil procedure rules having analysed the Law Society’s feedback.
The Society looks forward in more ways than one today.