When asked for the skill that best typifies a proficient advocate, Davinder Singh SC responded much like many of our other interviewees do – “hard work.” Yet while listening to Singh describe the type of hard work he engages in, one can’t help but notice an accompanying legal acumen that is distinctive and profound.
Take, for example, Singh’s insightful characterization of cross-examination, a formal trial process in which an attorney questions a witness, hoping to elicit nuanced details concerning the facts of the case. The anatomy of cross-examination is a cautious, often protracted, conversation between the advocate and the witness. Singh, however, prefers to interpret this process as a conversation between the lawyer and the judge; the witness is merely his medium – the first opportunity to lay the foundations of his legal arguments. Many believe cross-examination to be an artform, one that requires years of practice and a non-trivial amount of natural talent. Those who have watched Singh in action consider him a marvel.
Davinder's skill in cross examination begins with what he considers the process to be about, which is a dialogue between him and judge.
Singh credits his aptitude for cross-examination to Michael Beloff QC, a prominent English barrister renowned for his work in administrative law, and Joe Grimberg SC, his pupil-master at Drew & Napier. Beloff could create convincing narratives during cross-examination with nothing more than some scribbles on a piece of paper. Grimberg, on the other hand, was an expert by preparation, often transcribing each question he intended to ask. Singh finds that there is no effective substitute for talking through a case. Perhaps in contrast to traditional Asian workplace culture, Singh always encourages dissent within his team, aiming to provoke various perspectives about a case and anticipate issues that might concern the bench.
Although Singh takes pride in his meticulous, Grimberg-esque brand of preparation, he acknowledges the need to be adaptable. Things rarely go to plan – a witness may be disobliging or defensive, a judge may form premature opinions or simply fail to follow the cross-examiner’s line of reasoning. In such cases, an advocate must be quick to read the situation, and amend it accordingly. If a witness refuses to be his medium, Singh devises new questions to nonetheless convey his intended message. At times, Singh is left undecided on his opening question just seconds before standing to address the witness; a mediocre first-impression risks alienating the bench. Despite its apparent fragility and tenuousness, Davinder Singh perceives cross-examination as a blank canvas, inviting him to craft his own case.
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