The Bar Council accidentally sacks all of its staff

Avatar photo

By Judge John Hack on

Mail-merge problems during restructuring consultation cause chaos.


Technology can be tricky — and judging by a story floating around the Inns of Court, bar leaders failed to get to grips with the subtleties of mail-merge, resulting in all Bar Council staff being told to clear their desks.

The council — the quasi-trade union for some 15,000 practising barristers across England and Wales — is understood to have been conducting an internal resources review; in other words, a quick assessment of the staff list to see who could be put out to pasture.

Overseeing the review is Stephen Crowne, who was appointed as the council’s chief executive a year ago. Within the last fortnight, having mulled over the structure he had inherited, Crowne instructed his human resources minions to draft three letters, with one meant to be sent to staff depending on how the chips fell regarding their posts.

Letter one was good news — recipients were informed there was no change to their posts and they were effectively given a pat on the head and told to carry on.

Letter two was less joyous — those staff members were told that their jobs were changing, but politely invited them to apply for a revised post.

And letter three wasn’t very nice at all — it regretfully informed recipients that their jobs were redundant and they were for the heave ho.

This is where mail merge kicks in — or in this case didn’t. Owing to a glitch, say sources close to the Bar Council, all staff received letter three.

Understandable confusion and anger all round ensued, before Crowne — who came to the bar from … wait for it … leading multi-national IT networking company Cisco — was able to calm nerves and presumably hand deliver the correct letters with apologies.

When Crowne’s appointment was announced last May, the Bar Council trumpeted the move as providing it with “strong leadership and general management expertise to ensure the organisation remains fit for purpose, financially robust, cost-effective and focused on serving the interests and needs of the bar”.

The council declined to comment on mail-merge difficulties, or on the specifics of its internal restructuring. A spokeswoman said simply:

“We are currently consulting staff on proposals to restructure the representation and policy functions to align with our strategic plan 2014-2017. No decisions have yet been made. The proposals are about deploying staff more effectively and efficiently rather than cost or head-count reduction.”

That should put minds at rest.