“I find it quite disturbing that this topic gets twice as many replies as “Neuberger” and “Root and Branch” put together. Priorities!”
I have a theory about this. Wigs are a topic which guarantees debate because the issues are clear, no one is more of an expert (or less) than anyone else, it’s easy to have a view and it is something about which a barrister may, just may, exercise an influence upon. As opposed to, say, Neuberger; where people think that it is a done deal, it’s too much effort to sweat it up and you really have to think before you speak because there is a back story which you are not being paid to get up. What Honey does not say (although she would doubtless agree) is that the views on wigs are clearly, succinctly and persuasively expressed.
There are lessons here. Firstly that the profession and its prospective entrants do not feel that their contributions will make much of a difference on topics of real importance. I truly do not believe that is so. Why should it be? This is a profession when the best argument has a real chance of success. But, if people carry on in this way, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Secondly, that too many people feel that the title barrister entitles them to some sort of free pass. I mention no one by name – if the wig fits, wear it. But wake up and smell the coffee. It ain’t so. Just because your profession has fancy dress is not a good reason for you to be marked out. Let’s be honest about this: compared to solicitor’s finals the BVC is a stroll in the park. The time has long gone when being a barrister guaranteed respect. Now is the time to earn it.
We won’t earn anything by being seen to diss the competition. Nor by labouring outdated modes of address and distinctions of dress in an apparent effort to demonstrate unfounded claims to superiority. If we want to be seen as a specialist profession then we had better make sure that we are the best advocates/drafters/advisers around. The mark of a good advocate is someone who does not condescend to his/her opponent.
Thirdly, what do we want to be best at? In my view the tendency to sell ourselves as specialists in substantive topics is a mistake. We all do it because we think that solicitors want it. But solicitors may simply want comprehensive advice, backed by solid judgement, delivered quickly and based on an analysis of relevant authority. Followed by successful advocacy.
I have been against many members of the specialist bars, from commercial to clinical negligence. Virtually all of them have known more law than me when the case started. But finding the pertinent cases, reading and comprehending them is not terribly difficult. You may have a learning curve and it may be steep but barristers are used to working hard. And at the end of the day it’s about what I can get your witness to say. At that stage a wide understanding of the law and how it works and interrelates is of more value, in my view, than a deep understanding of a narrow segment. And a cross-examination based on treating the witness as one would a complainant or defendant in a criminal case can deliver benefits which the other side did not anticipate.
Moreover, with a very few exceptions I am not sure that those members of the Bar knew more about the particular area than their equivalents in solicitors’ firms. The firms are better resourced, even more specialised and have the benefit of practical dealings with the lay client which gives them an inside track the Bar lacks. So why are the clients paying twice for the same type of expertise?
In other words, comments on wigs are what we do best. And we would all be just as good on Neuberger if we felt involved.
These musing are prompted not only by the comments on wigs, but by my recent need to set out my practice areas for work purposes. I was amazed by how many different areas in which I had experience (legal disclaimer: not the same as expertise). And no one has sued me for not knowing enough. I believe that generalism might be the way forward – with the specialisms being independence, advice, drafting and advocacy.
Maybe this is crazy, nostalgic dreaming. If so put it down to the strain of defending in a case when I believe my client to be innocent – only the 3rd time I can remember it happening to me. But I don’t think my mind is wandering.