Sean Jones QC is all about the fun, he tells me. This may seem surprising coming from one of London’s most feared court advocates (he takes no prisoners when it comes to cross-examination, in his eyes the essence of the exercise is "to expose foolishness and dishonesty”). But having seen him take to the comedy stage at the #LawSmash charity stand-up night and reduce his audience to helpless puddles of laughter with the driest of delivery, I know it to be true. At one point a Kysen colleague had to remove his glasses to wipe away the tears blurring down his face. I think it was hearing Sean describe a core skill of the accomplished advocate being “to convert, incredibly efficiently, money into self-importance” that tipped him over the edge.
Sean wasn’t the only star turn of the night, (the standard was incredibly high, easily as good as the usual Comedy Store fare). But he was a favourite of all the people I spoke to. I was curious to know whether his advocacy training had been good preparation for stand-up. And equally, whether he has learned anything from the comedy stage that he might bring to his work in court.
“There is an irreducible overlap of course, both involving standing in front of an audience, talking out loud, being confident and using the spoken word to encourage people to see the world your way. But there is a major difference: comedy works by surprising people. It’s all about the unexpected twist. You begin a trail of characteristics for example, to set up an expectation with your audience as to where you are going, which your punchline then shatters.” Here’s an example from the comedy textbooks: the line “As a lawyer I meet some really bitter, angry, sick people” sets an audience up to assume you are talking about clients, then you deliver the punchline: “And that’s just the other lawyers!” Boom boom. “But advocacy is the opposite”, says Sean. “The job is to persuade a judge that your line of argument is the only logical one to follow. You set out a well-defined, brightly lit path for the court to follow, to lead them to the one conclusion you want them to reach. And you need to make anything odd or exceptional that your client has done seem completely ordinary. So by definition, in your advocacy there should be no unexpected twists, turns or branches off the path.”
And what has Sean learned from the comedy stage that he might take forward? “That it is great fun and I’d like to do more.” Well that’s very good news for the rest of us!
You don’t have to wait for the next LawSmash event to enjoy Sean’s humour. His Twitter followers were recently treated to this comedy store of tips for George Clooney as he prepared for his marriage to top Doughty Street barrister Amal Alamuddin under the hashtag #MarriedtotheBar. Take a look here to see why it went viral… and follow Sean @seanjones11KBW
I did some uncomfortable learning this week about the rise of DIY Justice. Working on a topic about the rise of private criminal prosecutions, I was brought up to speed on the shocking reality that more and more businesses and individuals are bringing private criminal prosecutions where they feel the authorities just don't have the resources to seek justice on their behalf.
The oft-quoted corporate example is Virgin Media's 2011 suit against fraudsters selling top-boxes giving unlawful free access to channels, since which there's been something of an explosion in private criminal cases. A sound option for businesses needing quick solutions to prevent market disadvantage. But for individuals? Are we really to commoditise people's access to justice this way? The latest private case in the headlines concerns a student who was being harassed, who resorted to hiding cameras inside his sunglasses to capture the evidence he needed because the police were too stretched to help him. As justice champion Glyn Maddocks put it to me when we discussed the phenomenon this week, "forget the threat of Tesco Law: the real worry for our legal system is this rise in B&Q Law".
Looking forward to spending Sunday evening with Brad Pitt. Yes, you heard that right: Brad Pitt!! He is in town to promote his latest WW2 blockbuster Fury and is expected to attend the red carpet premiere IN PERSON as part of the BFI London Film Festival. And we have tickets! Here's a big, formal Thank You to client and friend Julie Gingell for ever suggesting we join the BFI. Feeling very pleased with the value we get from our membership just now :)
I'll tweet some photos if I possibly can. And just for you, I'm even prepared to Iet Pitt the Handsome photobomb some of the pictures... I'll also let you know what I think of director David Ayer's curious observation that "there's something maternal about the tank in Fury" once I've seen the film and consulted my husband's copy of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams...