Comment: Mike Jones QC: A Master Advocate

Mike Jones gave thousands of unpaid hours to the training of others. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Mike Jones gave thousands of unpaid hours to the training of others. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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PIONEER of training in advocacy skills changed attitudes to achieving courtroom excellence, writes John Sturrock

In Autumn 1992, I was deputed to meet an Australian judge who was visiting the Faculty of Advocates with his wife, a barrister. They were leaders in “advocacy skills training”, an activity in which I had shown some interest.

Inspired by this meeting, in June 1993 I visited the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to learn how advocates were trained. The trip was a revelation. I was exposed to first class analysis of court-craft and to learning advocacy “by doing”, in workshops, with coaching and video feedback. Soon after, these Australians, George and Felicity Hampel, returned to Edinburgh. They led a ground-breaking advocacy skills weekend for the Scottish Bar. As one leading QC said: “It was as if the lights had come on.”

Before they left, George, Felicity and I discussed how to take forward the advocacy skills project in the Faculty. I was willing to do the hard graft but, we recognised, such an initiative would require a highly regarded senior member to give it real credibility. We discussed a few names from among those who had attended that weekend. One name stood out.

As I walked back into Parliament Hall, I was approached by the very QC we had identified. “I’d like to help you in any way I can,” he said. It was Mike Jones, already a top counsel who would scale even greater heights in the years ahead. Thus began a journey, and a friendship, which changed the way the Scottish Bar viewed advocacy and how court room excellence could be achieved.

The news that Mike – Lord Jones as he became – had died unexpectedly last month came as a real shock to those who had worked with and admired this immensely gifted and wholly unpretentious man. For me, it rather marks an end to a fine chapter in the Faculty’s history.

That chapter began with that meeting in Parliament Hall and continued the following summer over a beer in Breckenridge, Colorado, as Mike and I planned what an advocacy skills training programme could contain. Earlier that year, I had given up full-time practice as an advocate to become the Faculty’s first Director of Training and Education. I suppose I was the systems designer while Mike turned his own advocacy excellence into teachable content.

We were helped by our connection with the American National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA).

Mike was in the first group to head for Harvard in 1994 to undergo “teacher training” with NITA.

That journey was followed by a number of colleagues, many now senior judges. We learned how to teach advocacy well. Subsequently, we travelled to other places to share and learn, including South Africa and Northern Ireland, where Mike is remembered with great affection.

Mike (and Lady Dorrian who played another important role) took the American and Australian ideas and modified them for Scottish use. Phrases like “creating an event in the mind of the audience in order to persuade”, “why am I asking this question of this person at this time in this way?” and “every word carefully chosen for its task” became familiar to all those who attended Mike’s sessions in the Foundation Course for Devils at the Bar, which produced its first alumni in the summer of 1996. Following Mike’s death, I received some moving tributes to him from those who benefited from his insights as they started out at the Bar.

Mike must have contributed thousands of unpaid hours to the training of others over the years. He refined and reconsidered every aspect of what he brought to the courses. That he did so while maintaining a world-class courtroom practice was a tribute to his commitment and energy. In his own court craft, he would deploy the very techniques he imparted to others.

I knew Mike as a friend. I don’t recall him ever speaking maliciously about anyone. He wouldn’t engage in Bar gossip, a staple of a small institution. In some ways, he stood apart. Devoted to his family and to excellence in his work, he had little time for frivolities and yet was the most companionable of people with whom to share a drink after a tough training session.

Mike demonstrated lightness of touch, graciousness, courtesy, respect and complete lack of ego.

And a gentle sense of humour: he would greet me with the words: “Ah, the man they call Stur-rock.”

It’s hard to believe I won’t hear that salutation from Mike Jones again. We shall miss him greatly.

• John Sturrock QC was director of training and education, Faculty of Advocates, 1994-2002. He left to establish Core Solutions.