Humour at the Dubin Lecture on Advocacy

The Dubin Lecture on Advocacy, named in honour of former Chief Justice of Ontario and legendary litigator Charles Dubin, is a series on advocacy started in 1998. Lectures are delivered every two years and have included luminaries of the legal profession from across the globe. Some of them have been very funny. The first speaker, criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan, has a gift for humour matched only by his gift for cross-examination. In his introduction, he poked fun at the wealth of advice available on advocacy. Here’s how he described his preparation for the event:

I have now read every single book, and every single article on advocacy ever written. I have spent somewhere in the vicinity of 350 non-billable hours on this lecture, and I have reduced all of the books and all of the articles to one single commandment, and if you think that I am going to share that discovery with you in some free lecture honouring some former Chief Justice of this province, think again.

Four years later, it was the turn of Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie. Here was his introduction:

It is a great privilege to be asked to give this year’s Dubin Lecture on Advocacy. I read with interest the contributions of my two predecessors, Edward Greenspan, Q.C., and Sir Sydney Kentridge, Q.C., whose lectures offered up a witch’s brew of tendentious preaching, over-arching generalities, ethical lapses, comic relief, and moral ambivalence. I intend to continue in that tradition.

Justice Binnie proceeded to describe the experience of appearing before Chief Justice Dubin in the Court of Appeal:

During a 23-year reign of terror on the Ontario Court of Appeal, he deployed the inquisitorial method with a skill not seen since Robespierre presided over Le tribunal revolutionnaire. Every appeal was initiated with a firestorm of questions which rarely let up. At some point in the storm, with luck, some sort of coherence would begin to emerge and the reluctant participating lawyers — Les Miserables — got the impression that having narrowed his inquiry to the essential questions, the Chief Justice was au grand galop on a search for answers. The search, like the questions, branched out in all directions, but at some point you would be presented by Chief Justice Dubin — Le grand Inquisiteur — with   a working hypothesis — what Chief Justice Dubin thought the case was all about, and therefore, for all practical purposes, what the case was all about.

At that stage, counsel who was on the wrong end of the momentum began to hear the    tumbrels coming from la place de la guillotine as My Lord Dubin helpfully raised numerous other objections to reinforce the frailties of your position. If, on the other hand, momentum was running in your favour, you would be celebrated as a sort of avocat du jour with soft lobs of easy questions to even further strengthen what was developing into   an impregnable position. Eventually a sort of epiphanie occurred in which the destiny of the case was made manifest to all those in the courtroom.

These wonderful lectures enhance the camaraderie of the Bar, and demonstrate that advocacy at the highest levels needn’t always be so serious.

“The Dubin Lectures on Advocacy, 1998-2002” (Aurora, Canada Law Book, 2004).

Image via Flickr courtesy of Tony Fischer.