Oral advocacy involves a separate set of skills to written advocacy. Because oral advocacy differs widely from country to country, we omitted training materials on this subject. Nevertheless, it will be important for you to consider when, where and how oral advocacy takes place, and to draft a training methodology to train your staff.
Oral advocacy often occurs outside the courtroom or the refugee office. You may find yourself advocating on a client’s behalf in the hallway of the Foreign Ministry, detention center, or a hospital — anywhere your client’s rights are in jeopardy. In many situations, a personal meeting will be much more effective in resolving your client’s legal issues than a brief or other piece of writing. In some cultures, oral advocacy means fighting tooth-and-nail for every advantage for your client; in other cultures, oral advocacy means inviting the other party out to lunch to help understand her concerns about the case.
Mediation is a form of oral advocacy. Mediation may be appropriate between a client and an employer, spouse or landlord. It is a common method of alternative dispute resolution aimed at seeking an agreement between parties before going to court. Mediating between parties may ultimately facilitate access to justice before expensive and time-consuming court processes.
Unlike written advocacy, you will be unable to review all of your advocates’ work ahead of time. You will not be able to undo a culturally insensitive remark or an erroneous statement about the law, which can have serious repercussions for your organization and your clients. As such, it is imperative that all of your advocates understand organizational policies regarding oral advocacy. Make conscious decisions about who can interact with whom, and always meet with advocates in advance to discuss strategy, tone, etc. Many of the most serious institutional challenges that Asylum Access has faced in our field offices came from well-meaning but improperly trained legal advocates crossing boundaries during oral advocacy.