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The art of oral advocacy

(Article published in the Feb 7, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

          On 27 January 2007, Justice Magdangal M. de Leon delivered before the lawyers of Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles and their guests, a lecture on “Oral Advocacy”.  Unfortunately, his talk was the last of ten Mandatory Continuing Legal Education lectures organized by the law office to make it easy for its attorneys to comply with Bar Matter No. 850.  The sessions started on Friday afternoon,  went on through the whole day of Saturday and ended only in the morning of Sunday.  I was not exaggerating when, as reactor, I confessed to being, by noon of Sunday, already numb from all that information overload.

         Fortunately, however, Justice De Leon was himself a good oral advocate and kept the audience enthralled by his treatment of the subject.  I could, in fact, swear Shakespeare received advice and training from Justice De Leon when he wrote Mark Anthony’s oration at Caesar’s funeral in the play Julius Caesar.

         Preparation, says Justice De Leon, is the key to successful oral advocacy.  Following this advice, Shakespeare presents Mark Anthony as looking at Cesar’s corpse, to prepare himself, before addressing the crowd.  He spoke to the crowd only after he had worked himself up, with the forecast, “O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers! Thou art the ruins of the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times. Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!” Over thy wounds now do I prophesy, … A curse shall light upon the limbs of men; Domestic fury and fierce civil strife shall cumber all the parts of Italy; Blood and destruction shall be so in use, and dreadful objects so familiar, that mothers shall but smile when they behold their infants quarter'd with the hands of war; 

Although internally fired up, Mark Anthony, following Justice De Leon’s advice to always maintain deference and respect to the court, began with  Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.  His mode of address suggests familiarity and honor at the same time.  Though Romans are no longer what they used to be, being called a “Roman” was honorific at that time. 

In contrast, Brutus, who spoke before Mark Anthony, started with, “Be patient till the last…hear me for my cause; and be silent that you may hear.”, asking his audience to wait and postpone their judgment until he finishes.  Brutus was thus exhibiting an air of superiority.  Very similar to saying to a justice, who interjects a question to a presenting lawyer, to wait since the presentor “will come to that.”  Such an attitude, says Justice De Leon, in fact, is interpreted by the justices as disrespect.

Mark Anthony undoubtedly was struck by the unfairness of a funeral where only the defects of the dead were talked about.  But, he was facing a hostile audience whom Brutus had earlier convinced that Ceasar was ambitious. So, Anthony makes, what Justice De Leon suggests to lawyers in similar situations, a tactical retreat.  He says, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault, And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
  Mark Anthony does not make it personal and in fact gives tribute to Brutus and tells the audience that he is accepting it.

Then, as Justice De Leon advises, Mark Anthony addresses the issue of Caesar’s ambition. Justice De Leon reminds us: “the cardinal rule for responding to questions is to answer them—never evade”.  Thus, Mark Anthony recounts that Ceasar “hath brought many captives home to Rome whose ransoms did the general coffers fill: Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff…You all did see that on the Lupercal, I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? Notice, that Mark Anthony was demonstrating Justice De Leon’s observation that “oral advocacy at its best is not a monologue by the advocate but a dialogue with the court.”

Then, at the right moment, Mark Anthony reveals that Ceasar had left a will for the citizens of Rome.  He says, But here's a parchment with the seal of Caesar; I found it in his closet, 'tis his will. Let but the commons hear this testament--which, pardon me, I do not mean to read--and they would go and kiss dead Caesar's wounds And dip their napkins in his sacred blood, yea, beg a hair of him for memory,and, dying, mention it within their wills, bequeathing it as a rich legacy unto their issue.

           Mark Anthony had the skill that Justice De Leon describes as the “ability to read the court”.  He saw that the crowd was ready for it.  And, after arousing their curiosity and after the crowd insists on wanting to know what is written in the will, Mark Anthony takes advantage of situation and asks his audience to form a ring around Caesar’s corpse.

He puts them in suspense saying “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. You all do know this mantle: I remember the first time ever Caesar put it on; 'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent, that day he overcame the Nervii: Look, in this place ran Cassius' dagger through: See what a rent the envious Casca made: through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd; And as he pluck'd his cursed steel away, mark how the blood of Caesar follow'd it, as rushing out of doors, to be resolved if Brutus so unkindly knock'd, or no; For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel: Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him! This was the most unkindest cut of all; for when the noble Caesar saw him stab, ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms, quite vanquish'd him: then burst his mighty heart; And, in his mantle muffling up his face, even at the base of Pompey's statue which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.O, what a fall was there, my countrymen! Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourish'd over us.
        By this time, his audience is all excited and, more important, ready to be won over to his side.  Mark Anthony, following Justice De Leon, avoids elaborate analysis.  He simply tells his audience what the will of Caesar contained.  Mark Anthony says “Here is the will, and under Caesar's seal. To every Roman citizen he gives, to every several man, seventy-five drachmas….Moreover, he hath left you all his walks, his private arbours and new-planted orchards, On this side Tiber; he hath left them you, and to your heirs for ever, common pleasures, to walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.

         After making his point, Mark Anthony stops while he is winning.  He prudently ends, saying, “Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?  And the crowd goes on a frenzy, seeking to kill Brutus and the rest.

Truly, then Mark Anthony’s funeral oration exhibits the features of successful oral advocacy. So, why are the law schools not making him a model advocate? For that, I will devote a later column.