As new advocates in criminal law, we junior solicitors learn so much of our craft by simply doing. Scary though it may be at first, there is nothing quite as effective as simply getting up and giving it a go.
There is no doubt however that we look to those more experienced for guidance and inspiration. Valuable advocacy skills are passed from generation to generation. As we bumble towards our own unique style, our antennae are always tuned towards the technique of those more senior who have refined their work far beyond a point of competence.
Philip Dunn QC falls squarely into that category. He is an advocate with many lessons and skills to share and we were privileged to have him speak at our recent ADLA conference.
Mr Dunn was called to the bar over 40 years ago and is one of the most sought after senior counsel in crime. His practice spans jurisdictions, with briefs coming regularly from South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. There can be no doubt he is a master orator, and one of the best barristers of our time.
Mr Dunn held the audience in the palm of his hand as he took us on a rollicking journey from the early days of his career to more recent years. In the 45 minutes allocated, there was comedy, intrigue, violence and sorrow. From rainy days at the old South Melbourne court, to risky moments with razor blades in the Pentridge cells, nothing was lost in the retelling.
He painted a picture of the many changes the game has seen since he first began. Happily, women are no longer resigned to the typewriter. There are more women in practice and on the bench at all levels. The way we do our job on a daily basis has also changed. When Mr Dunn started there was no such thing as a transcript service, with committal proceedings scribbled in biro by the clerk. Nowadays, we rely on instant communication with emails and text messages keeping us all in contact all of the time.
Philip Dunn has an incredible knack for advocacy. He commands a room with apparent ease, enveloping the audience in the tales he is telling. His is not a style that can be copied with any real success. What we can take away from the experience however, is the reminder that good storytelling is powerful. Everyone has a story, be they a drunken vagrant or a high flying CEO. It is our privileged job to tell these stories in a way that moves the court. Hopefully, in the direction of our choosing.
Mr Dunn also reminded us that the tie that binds all criminal lawyers (well, hopefully all) is a commitment to justice. We share an unshakable belief that all clients are entitled to good representation and a fair hearing. No matter how heinous the allegations or how smelly the punter, access to justice is crucial to the maintenance and furtherance of the free society that we all enjoy.
Finally, Mr Dunn’s words highlighted that it is the comedy and camaraderie with our colleagues that sees us through the challenges of this job.
As criminal lawyers, Mr Dunn believes there is a bit of Rumpole in all of us. We certainly hope so.