The Dual Nature of Advocacy

This Monday is the start of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law 3L Advocacy Course. It is an intensive three-week program in which students, who are soon to be articling students, find themselves in the heady atmosphere of practice. It is a simulation, to be sure, but one which builds confidence, knowledge, skill and the love for the practice of law. This is my fourth year as course director and I still look forward to the electrified atmosphere the course engenders. The atmosphere is also collegial as so many lawyers, judges, and justice system participants gather together for one reason: to help create skilful advocates. This course is a prime example of another facet of lawyering, which is volunteerism. Each one of this 100+ participants are graciously giving their time and talent to our students and faculty. To give back to the community as the Calgary bench and bar does for this program is truly inspiring.

This program, as a concept, as experiential learning, and as community-builder, makes me realize that “advocacy” is a shape-shifter. It is not just about standing up in court and doing a killer examination or a staggering legal argument, it’s about the communal coming-together as a profession for the purpose of the betterment of that profession. This program, whether we are a 3L who has never seen the inside of a courtroom or a seasoned practitioner who has seen too much the underside of the law, brings us together so we can all strive for excellence in our own way but together.

I want to emphasize that advocacy is also about finding your authentic voice. To be sure, there are best practices but not one best practice. What I love best about the Advocacy course is how we are all encouraged to find how we each can contribute to the practice of law by being ourselves. The program is a safe environment in which students can start to do this. It is only a start as it can take years to find the individual approach that best works. But that’s okay – that’s advocacy.

I cannot leave this blog without connecting my thoughts to some personal reading I have done over the break. Philippe Sands, QC is a British barrister well known in international law circles. He has written textbooks in the area and practiced in the International Criminal Court for years. He also writes and podcasts in a more personal way. He has applied his prodigious legal skills to tracing his Jewish family history in Nazi-occupied Lemberg, which had a battered history of name changes as it buffeted from one occupying country to another. 

Sands brilliantly weaves that personal story of discovery with the equally compelling story of two men, both Jews who lived in Lemberg, who escaped the German occupation, and who individually contributed to modern international human rights: Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin. Lauterpacht was a gifted law professor who championed the concept of individual rights as protected by the global community. His involvement in the Nuremberg trials resulted in the convictions of those individuals who were responsible for the murder of millions including the families of Lauterpacht, Lemkin and Sands. Hersch Lauterpacht was the originator of the then nascent offence of “crimes against humanity.” Raphael Lemkin came at Nuremberg differently. His emphasis was not on the individual but on the groups and cultures which the Nazi war machine sought to obliterate. He invented the word “genocide” to reflect his belief that the destruction of an identifiable group of people cannot be countenanced. Sands book includes a map of Zhovkva, a tiny village close to Lviv, where his great-grandmother and Lauterpacht were born. The map shows the street where both families resided and which hauntedly connects to the burial place of the Jews of the village who were all massacred during the Nazi occupation. Hence the name of the book as East West Street.

Now the connection to my thoughts on advocacy. It struck me how the story in East West Street was simultaneously a story of the pursuit of individual and collective justice, just as the stories of Lauterpacht and Lemkin, super-imposed on one another, was one story arising from mirror images of what injustice looks like. Sands is, as his training and family history made him, an advocate of the highest degree who is concerned with the individual and the whole. So too, being a skilful advocate requires those two halves, the private and public, to reveal itself into one vision. We are obliged to pursue justice through individual means but for the greater good. Even when we represent an individual, it is not just the client’s plight it is our plight too. Being an advocate requires expertise in managing these two dualities.

Circling back to the start of these musings on advocacy, I can see the bigger picture this course suggests. What we each do in the legal profession does impact individual lives but what we do together significantly outsizes that impact. We protect individual rights but we also engage in community-building. Advocacy, as an integral part of who we are as a profession, reflects both of these objectives and celebrates them. To me that is the truly wonderful outcome of the course and what I look forward to experiencing on Monday.