Life at the Bar · Qualities Required · The BVC · The Future

A Land Flowing with Wigs – and Honey

Honey speaks:
“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 Nor by labouring outdated modes of address and distinctions of dress in an apparent effort to demonstrate unfounded claims to superiority.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.

19 thoughts on “A Land Flowing with Wigs – and Honey

  1. Well I for one was just working down the page, as opposed to working in date order.

    I’ve read Neuberger’s report, and for me it seems very weak and thin. I also am not entirely convinced that having 3 reports in quick succession is the best way forward, nor is having Neuberger refer to an upcoming report.

    Of course on top of that we have the root-and-branch review, whatever that will suddenly reveal that these 3 reports haven’t I’m not entirely sure.

    As to your points Simon about a return to the halcyon days of a barrister being just that a barrister; not being a commercial litigator, or whatever specialism we want to choose.

    I think, personally, the legal culture (especially in London) is too much focused on compartmentalising people (and so x is good for y, and z is good for t, etc.).

    It could be that such specialisation, which is encouraged at such an early stage (i.e. during the BVC, at the time of OLPAS appliactions) is one of the factors discouraging people from the Bar. It has been my experience, at least, that people associate the solicitor route, in certain firms, as being much more varied than the life of a specialised barrister in London (at a specialist Chambers).

  2. From a Bar Student’s point of view I find Neuberger prima facie a little soul destroying but perhaps its a long overdue wakeup call both for the Bar, and for people like me;whether or not anything will actually come of it remains to be seen; given the recent debate on wigs, and the fact that the vast majority have voted to retain this rather quaint form of dress, I personally don’t hold out too much hope that Neuberger will carry much truck , if any, with the more conservative (small c) members of the Bar, for whom the preservation the status quo is an unspoken essential;hence there will always be resistance to even the slightest change, and to my mind this places Neuberger at loggerheads with the profession it seeks to drag into the 21st century ( albeit kicking and screaming).
    On the other hand, the fact remains that too many people come to complete the BVC with absolutely no chance of securing pupillage – indeed, in my cohort there are a number who are not even likely to pass the course, such as it is, and for those of us left I’m not entirely sure those conservative elements are likely to welcome us “Bar Chavs” (apparently a favoured label for the great unwashed at bar school) with open arms.One hears of the occaisonal story of triumph in the face of adversity ( age, disability, gender issues, etc) but these are exceptions to the rule; consequently, they have achieved an almost mythical status among bar hopefuls, and often provide the drive to undertake the BVC but it is only until these stories of triumph become more commonplace that Neuberger, or anything -if anything- likely to follow it, will be able to claim that it had an effect; in fact, sometimes such stories, though apparently comforting and inspiring may do more harm than good fuelling hope where, frankly there isn’t any.
    ” Comments on wigs are what we do best; and we would all be just as good on Neuberger if we felt involved” Amen to that….
    I may not have read the report itself, but Richard Ramsay at Consilio provides a thoughtful analysis of its contents and its ramifications. The report may have the bar in a temporary tizz, but how long will it be before it gets swept under the carpet, with all its well meaning if now redundant, predecessors?

  3. Fame at last! My mum will be proud.

    We have to defend our raison d’etre. Surely our primary distinguishing feature is not our wigs but our fearless, independent advocacy. We are “gobs for hire”. It is our thing, our purpose, our unique selling point. We are not better lawyers than solicitors. We need to be better advocates.

    If we don’t remember that, if we get lost in our wigs and our inns and our “learned friends”, our profession will deservedly die. And you can’t take nowt with you but your soul. Not even your wig.

  4. Wigs and gowns – This is so not an important enough issue to be spending significant time over. In criminal matters I can see the need for them – primarily to reinforce to the accused and all around the solemnity of the situation. Civil courts there is absolutely no need for them, plus I hate the way I have to traipse to court with my robes in the knowledge 95% of the time the judge will say I am not robing. The reality is on the ground robes in civil cases are all but gone. Why do people insist on trying to be King Canute? There is no need for them. Why not allow solicitors to wear wigs if they want to? Tradition for the sake of tradition is antiquated and ridiculous. People get work because they are good not because of what they wear on their head.

    Solicitors – Pro rata there is just as many incompetent counsel as solicitors. Does a solicitor who transfers to the bar and join a Chambers magically become competent? Does a barrister who becomes a solicitor suddenly become incompetent? If I was litigating and had to choose between having good solicitor or a good barrister I would definitely choose having a good solicitor.

    I think a lot of barristers certainly under appreciate the importance of solicitors. It pisses me off how many barristers are unpleasant about solicitors. The Bar can’t stop solicitors appearing in court if they wish to do so; any attempt at protectionism is simply in vain and makes us look childish. The unpleasant reality is there are too many barristers (particularly in London); the Bar will probably shrink by 25% in the next 10 years or so (if I get caught up in the wash so be it). One thing that bothers me greatly is the Law Society and the Bar Council are not more unified in fighting important causes together.

  5. Troubled Barrister – what a miserable and depressing old git you are. There you are saying how barristers and solicitors are all equal and wonderful and then you say you would prefer to have a good solicitor to a good barrister.

    And then – our profession is sliding down the toilet.

    So I take it you are now transferring to become a solicitor – to aleviate the overcrowding at the Bar.

    Okay then – cherio old buddie…let us know how you get on. Oh ! I have seen the light: you already ARE a soliciotr and you just come on here to wind us all up.

    Ah ! I like it…

    P has spoken.

  6. Sorry but I am not engaging in a pointless House of Commons type mud slinging match, much as I know you want and enjoy it. If you want to talk about issues then I will be more than happy to engage in a debate.

  7. Oh ! The moral high-ground? Ah – so that’s where you are hiding.

    If you wish to talk such contradictory nonsense, and The P points it out a convincing and erudite manner then The P fully understandS your reluctance to engage in a bit of a ruck.

    You go back and lick your wounds there’s a good lad.

    But if you think it’s okay to slag of our noble profession then The P will indeed engage you in a bit of a Merryweather to your Hatton conflab.

  8. Don’t you mean, “you’re” ?

    You are definitely a solicitor getting that one so wrong.

    And you are not impressing anyone either. Simone and you are hell bent on knocking the Bar. He is okay because he’s managed to get up the greasy pole to QC and can pontificate from a lofty height. Whilst you…well…you’re either a solicitor or a person who is plainly depressed.

    Have you tried jogging? It could help you climb out of the slough of despond you appear to be in.

  9. Yawn… so boring and unoriginal when a person has to repeat previous insults and copy back what someone said. Like I said before, if you want to debate the issue will be glad to. Name calling only makes you look small and as though you having nothing significant to say. Tell me why I am wrong (with some substance) rather than calling me names or can you only be repetitive? It troubles me not to call me a solicitor, unlike you I don’t think they are the lowest of the low, nor do I think the title of Barrister gives me cart blanche to belittle them. I do think far too many Barristers turn their noses up at Solicitors.

    Obviously you are reading things I have said he way you want to read them.

    I do believe there are too many Barristers especially ones in Crime and in London. A reduction in Barristers by about 25% will improve quality and alleviate financial stress.

  10. Ooo..get you. Thanks for you reasoned and very mature response. It was smashing…ta.

    Why the reduction in barristers by 25%? My goodness are you recommending a cull of barristers? Perhaps joining the ranks of the solicitors is the only way out for us.

    What I sensed in your posts was a giving up the ghost entirely; a throwing in of the towel and a capitulation wholesale. Is the answer to demolish our numbers? To put 25% of us to the sword?

    Is that really your solution?

    Nowonder you are called the Troubled Barrister.

    P has spoken.

    Hear The P.

    Oh by the way:

    lighten up for Gawd’s Sake. Cant you tell when someone’s taking the mick?

  11. Mr P….

    Will you please show some respect and maturity on this board. Simply name-calling is not cricket dear chap. You are making yourself small and insignificant.

    This is a serious debate and you are bringing it down to the level of a chimps’ tea party.

    Quite pathetic.

  12. More mud-slinging please, this has really made my Monday morning at Parliament House much more interesting…thanks guys.
    Oh, and have a super Christmas everyone… but only if the pressures of the Bar allow it of course!

  13. I dunno – I don’t think I can take much more of this ‘handbags at dawn’ nonsense – no wonder the bar is in the confused state it’s in…..

  14. Am I the only one who noticed that the final comment addressed to Mr Pineapples is FROM Mr Pineapples?? Are TB and MP just one schizophrenic individual?!

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