The Bar Council is doing its research on Court Dress. This takes the form of a questionnaire sent to all members of the profession. I accept that this is not directly related to pupillage, but it has a indirect relationship because the public perception of the profession is important. Also, this is just too good an opportunity to miss.
I ought to say that I have already answered my questionnaire sensibly and responsibly and sent it back. Although one is allowed anonymity I have waived mine because I don’t see why not. My views are simple – suits for all. I would extend this to criminal work as well, but I am content that many people feel that the wig and gown give a degree of anonymity and put young counsel on a par with more experienced practitioners. I don’t actually think either of these things are true, but the perception is there and they add a degree of formality. Of course, new practitioners need to treat their wig as I did – tie it to the rear bumper of the car and take it for a mile long outing on a dry day. It won’t come back white…
For any other sort of work the reality, as it seems to me, is that if we cannot, simply by our conduct, persuade members of the public that court proceedings are formal, that we are bright and articulate and that the case is as good as its substance then we are failing in such a spectacular way that we could wear crowns and tiaras and it would make no difference. For that reason, and in the interests of equality, I have also said that there should be no distinguishing mark of rank as between silks, juniors and solicitor advocates. This last was particularly hard – if you are tallish and thin with a tendency to stoop there is nothing quite so becoming as a tail-coat. Ah well – the bottom line, in my view, is that if you aren’t good enough in a suit, you’re not good enough.
I know that opinion polls suggest that the public would like us to retain wigs and gowns – or at least that this is what is said – a fairly careful search of Google reveals reference to such polls but no result which takes one to the poll itself. But I think this is beside the point. The public are taking about heritage. They like heritage. So do I. I think Beafeaters should look like they have just stepped out of a production of The Yeoman of the Guard and I get upset if they don’t. But I don’t expect them to be the first line of defence for the nation. The risk of the legal profession becoming part of the heritage industry is that, ultimately, it engenders less respect, not more.
I also find it slightly sad that so much effort is put into this issue. Compared to the Government’s attempts to give us a criminal justice system slightly better than Burma’s, who cares? The Bar Council is, I think, trying to gain the trust of the profession. They should have more faith – by and large people know that they are doing the best they can against tough odds. That some barristers succumb to the temptation to shoot the messenger is natural – but it shouldn’t dictate policy.
Still, in an effort to enliven things a little I offer a prize. Traditionally this is a bottle of wine – in this case Leoville-Barton 1994 (not a great year but still very good, I promise). Alternatively, if you are teetotal or just would rather not have the wine I am prepared to offer an hours careers advice (face-to-face or on the phone). The prize is for the most amusing completed questionnaire, with special attention being paid to alternative dress suggestions, as opposed to the Bar Council’s own. You do not have to send it in – but you do have to send it to me. The winning entry will be published and the winner can retain anonymity if desired. I reserve the right not to award the prize if nothing makes me laugh out loud – but I would like to get lots of entries and enjoy myself reading them. If you click on the Questionnaire link above it will allow you to fill in the form. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Enjoy