Written by Rabiya – Yasmin Khan
Introducing Urban Lawyers North
As the pioneer of Urban Lawyers, it was only fitting to have Tunde Okewale kick-start Urban Lawyers North at BPP Manchester where he dealt out a sharp lesson in oral advocacy on the 3rd of February. With his widely acknowledged unique style of public speaking and rather non-traditional journey into one of the UK’s leading Human Rights and Criminal Law chambers, Tunde has a reputation for captivating his audience. It comes as no surprise then that the event was attended by a variety of eager law students from those studying the LLB to those embarking on their own journey into the Bar.
One Minute on the Clock
The session began with a relatively easy ice-breaker; stand up, introduce yourself, tell us what you had for breakfast and the last film you watched. Straight forward and not so daunting. In fact, you would be forgiven right now for thinking it was going to be another one of those workshops where you leave a lot more confused and a lot less inspired than when you entered. But you’d be wrong.
Just as we had all settled back into our seats after a good few Frozen references (the boys blamed their younger sisters and nieces here) Tunde asked us each, in turn, to come up to the front and speak for one minute on a topic of his choosing. Needless to say most of the room, myself included, was completely mortified; he could throw anything out there, what if it was something you either had absolutely no idea about or something controversial and oh-so-sensitive. Admittedly we had a few potentially scary themes as we moved from God to granola and a lot in between but there was one common element amongst everyone who spoke. Despite the initial horror at the prospect of having to speak for 60 seconds on a subject chosen at whim, it seemed that once you struck upon the relatable element within the obscurity, you were on to a winner; you could use the rest of your time speaking about something you knew more about, and were thus more confident discussing. This isn’t only helpful in putting the speaker at ease but as an advocate it’s often easy to forget that you must project yourself, not just your case, says Tunde. Whilst the court is quite obviously not the place to take your morning coffee and easy banter, it is however where you are surrounded by ordinary, real people and real people relate to each other through their personalities. It follows then that as soon as students started talking about something familiar, their interaction with the audience was significantly improved. Not only that but a structure to their 60 seconds soon formed; the speech no longer incoherent and sporadic, flowed and was logical. And it seems that this was the entire crux of the exercise as it was this structure that Tunde emphasised greatly and went on to explain.
The ‘What, Why & How’
Following the 60 seconds of horror-turned-relief, Tunde introduced us to the basics of successfully structuring an argument in the courtroom; the ‘what, why and how’. The ‘what’ being the first step should convey the facts of the issue; the subsequent ‘why’ should involve material which assist in explaining or achieving the ‘what’ and the final ‘how’ relates to the manner of your delivery. This last aspect was stressed by Tunde. For laypeople it can be quite easy to fall into the mistaken belief that arguing your case means literally that, but it is markedly the opposite and the way in which you present your arguments can swing a decision in your favour, or fatally otherwise. Tunde explained the importance of presenting a clear argument with confidence and control, where persuasion is the aim. He pointed at some key aspects to help achieve this. Use your voice; varying tone and pace according to circumstance holds the audience’s attention and can be valuable in expressing particular points. Use the pause; whilst a useful crutch when you’re having difficulty thinking of something intelligent to say, pausing where it’s not expected can help to add emphasis to your arguments. Use your body language to your advantage; random and frequent gesturing can not only be confusing for your audience but can at worst be irritating says Tunde, so limit them to impactful and appropriate times. He also warns however, that an overuse of variations can be counter-productive; rather than help to persuade the audience you might be at risk of sounding insincere and losing favour entirely.
We were then given a chance to demonstrate our newly learnt skills in a defence of the charitable and troubled Mr Hooper and his one-off drink driving offence; where Tunde chaired proceedings as the typically contrary judge yielding some very amusing results.
Altogether it was an evening of lessons learnt and not just for those wanting to head in a similar direction as Tunde but also those who would usually struggle with public speaking in general. As someone who can often digress from the issue at hand and get a little carried away with my convictions, I certainly grasped the importance of maintaining control throughout my argument. For others it was the three-step rule that was worth remembering or simply knowing that you can do something you previously didn’t think you could. But equally as important as the nuggets we all took away from the workshop, it was a pleasure to be taught these lessons by someone who has such an inspiring story, who is an example in advocacy and according to GQ is one of the coolest guys under 38.5. On behalf of BPP Manchester we’d like to thank Tunde greatly for taking the time to come up North and teach us how it’s done. Well, as far as all this legal stuff goes anyway.