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The Judge Rules: Bar officialdom must tidy up the mess around ‘brand barrister’

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Scraped through the BPTC but failed to bag a pupillage? Not to worry — you can still call yourself a barrister

LeadBarrister

We live in a world where brands have become the only cultural currency that matters.

Footballers are plastered with them. Even the England cricket team is forced to wear the name of a pretentious supermarket on their once pristine white flannels (or should that be poly/nylon/cotton mix?). Sports grounds, theatres and concert halls all flog naming rights to businesses aiming to achieve the ultimate marketing nirvana, global brand recognition.

No surprise, then, that branding has become crucial in the professions as well. But while corporations employee hordes of in-house as well as external lawyers to protect their intellectual property and the integrity of brands from pirates, those in charge of “brand barrister” seem remarkably blasé about just who has the right to wear the term on their metaphorical shirts.

Just what does the term “barrister” mean? And are the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Bar Council in England and Wales doing enough to control and protect its use?

Clearly, they are not.

The lax approach of officialdom — and the potentially negative impact it has on the practising profession – has recently been highlighted by three examples covered by Legal Cheek.

First is the case of Monika Juneja (pictured below), the former deputy leader of the Conservative party contingent on Guildford Borough Council. Juneja — who has just received a suspended prison sentence for pretending to be a barrister — clearly broke the law.

juneja

Having not passed the bar’s vocational course, even under the regulator’s vague rules, she was not entitled to strut around Surrey calling herself a barrister. However, the Bar Council — in a monumental administrative clanger — initially told an independent investigation that she was perfectly at liberty to use the title.

Next, is the example of Andrew Charalambous (pictured below). The UKIP man passed the old Bar Vocational Course — now the Bar Professional Training Course — was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn, but never did a pupillage. However, he is perfectly entitled under bar rules to describe himself as a “Barrister-at-Law”, which he does liberally.

andrew

Finally comes Sophia Cannon (pictured below). Now a television talking head on just about any subject a producer can come up with, Cannon has recently been at the heart of a row over an alleged assault on a London bus. That flurry of coverage raised the question of whether barristers that are no longer at the bar (Cannon left eight years ago) should be obliged to describe themselves as “non-practising”.

Cannon

In brand terms, this is an almighty mess. But the BSB doesn’t seem remotely inclined to tidy it up, and the Bar Council gives the appearance of complete disinterest in lobbying for it do so.

The council is letting practising barristers — the group it is meant to represent — down badly. “Brand barrister” needs to mean something, and what it needs to indicate is a qualified lawyer currently practising at the bar. It doesn’t seem that difficult.

Those who have practised in the past, but have for whatever reason ceased, should be entitled to call themselves “non-practising barrister” — or, if it is a bit more elegant, “barrister (non-practising)”.

And it is time for the bar’s leaders to grasp the nettle and rule that those who have simply passed the vocational course but not done pupillage should go in the same boat as Legal Practice Course graduates that have not done training contracts; and that boat is branded with a big fat nothing. No call; no title.

The reason the bar’s top brass is reluctant to make this move is that they are frit of putting the wind up BPTC providers. It is increasingly difficult for the intuitions to disguise the fact that the odds of landing a pupillage are roughly the same as having your picture taken with a Camelot official and a large cheque.

Yet they are able to market the BPTC on the grounds that it is not a complete waste of time for those that don’t end up in chambers as they can still be called and then impress family, friends and potential employers with their barrister title.

Why are the BSB and Bar Council so reluctant to bring in a regulation that would be commercially damaging to law schools …? Who knows? That’s a bit of a mystery.

Previously:

Ukip man calls himself ‘Barrister-at-Law’ despite not doing pupillage — BSB says it’s OK [Legal Cheek]

17 Comments

Satin Cut

Wasn’t there some sort of Oxbridge law degree whereby some years after completion one automatically became a solicitor or was entitled to say they were a solicitor?

(0)(8)

Lol

That’s even more preposterous than the fact that Oxbridge (and Trinity College, Dublin) BA students can get their degrees upgraded to an MA after a few years.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

What’s wrong with that?

(3)(6)

Not Very Amused

I posted before Not Amused. Wowser.

(11)(3)

Agree, but...

“No call, no title” doesn’t achieve what you are suggesting. Barristers are called after they pass the BPTC but before they begin pupillage.

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Not Amused

Agreed. But I would go further:

“Those who have practised in the past, but have for whatever reason ceased, should be entitled to call themselves “non-practising barrister” — or, if it is a bit more elegant, “barrister (non-practising)”.”

I disagree. It is a job, either you do it or you don’t. If you don’t do it then stop trying to milk some residual social status out of what you once did. Those individuals can say to people “I used to be a barrister” or, “I am a retired barrister”. But they shouldn’t be able to claim any direct connection to the profession or hold themselves out as in any way connected.

A barrister does the job of expert legal advice, trial and appellate advocacy. If you don’t do these things for profit then that’s it. The self interest of a bunch of Walter Mittys and Hyacinth Buckets must not be pandered to.

(20)(3)

Anonymous

You say I agree and disagree – which is it?

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Anonymous

But surely a doctor who no longer practises is entitled to call him or herself a doctor, and if they wish to say that they no longer practise that’s up to them. I would still describe as a barrister a 75-year-old QC who now spends his days watching golf on Sky.

I do agree that hopeless dreamers who only manage to get through the BPTC and keep down 12 rubber chicken dinners shouldn’t get the label though.

(7)(0)

Sandman

What’s the problem. If you’ve been called to the Bar then you are a barrister. But you can’t use it to hold yourself out as giving legal advice unless you are in good professional standing, which is more than havi.g completed a pupillage but also having paid your annual fees, done your CPD etc.

As well as being a Barrister, being called to the Bar also entitles you to use the suffix Esquire. And you remain a lifelong member of your Inn of Court. These are at least some small consolations for those who do not make it, whether at the pupillage, tenancy or post-tenancy stage

(2)(11)

Concerned Tutor

Not so on Esquire I’m afraid. Rather like “Mr”; anyone can use it if their head is inflated enough. I do believe it means something in the US however.
See
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/esquire

As to the main issue in the article? I think we can probably dispense with the “barrister” title for those not practising now. The practice of BPTC (and LPC for that matter) providers giving students the chance to “upgrade” their qualification to an LLM via a (provided it is decent) dissertation, seems to me to be consolation enough and ought to be encouraged. That avoids the confusion and it more accurately portrays what the person in question has (in an ideal world) achieved: been taught some hard stuff, passed some hard exams and written some intelligent commentary – which is nothing to sniff at.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Personally I see that LLM thing as a total waste of time. Everyone knows it’s not a ‘proper’ LLM, and you might technically get the letters after your name, but profess to be ‘Spotty Trainee LLM’ and the first questions will be what it is in and where it is from. If anything, it just degrades the LLM title of someone who has had to slave away on academic work and produce a somewhat original thesis for a proper LLM.

I’ve actually genuinely had LPC students ask me how much more employable that LLM from UoL will make them than just doing the LPC. I am always torn between laughing and crying.

(5)(1)

Not Amused

I don’t think it is right to say it ‘means something in America’ but not here. It means exactly the same thing in both places. It is just not regulated here any more – much like the term debutante. They were once regulated and we can, if we won’t to, follow that code. Or we can do as we like.

But there is a far better argument to say it is meaningless in America, regardless of their pomposity. You simply can’t have aristocratic hierarchy, even its lowest rungs, if you abolish the aristocracy altogether …

(0)(1)

Anonymous

While I have enjoyed articles here before, this is the first time I have ever commented. The reason I do so is that I think this article has things completely the wrong way round. The problem of people calling themselves barristers when not in practice, or not having done pupillage, is there. But it is a fairly minor one unless and until it involves people providing legal representation at court when not entitled to. That is already a criminal offence so I don’t see the point made above. The issue of people giving bad or less bad legal advice out of court seems to me trickier: it could be said that going to see someone who had at least done Bar Finals/the BVC (as they no longer are, I know) would be better than going to see one of the multitude of other fake legal advisers out there. Perhaps more should be done about it, but is the problem as bad as all that.

All of this falls to be considered alongside the real tragedy, which this article completely ignores, which is that of people who have undertaken the BVC, done well in it, and then are unable to find pupillage. I have known several of them and feel they are extremely hard done by. The main problem such people face is the closing off of other routes into the legal profession. It is all very well saying “you should have known that before starting” but I don’t think that’s fair. What is particularly unfair is that the Bar Representative Bodies, in keeping with the thrust of this post, have sold such people down the river by failing to hold out for an easier route to solicitor cross-qualification. The whole thing seems a nauseous stitch up between the Law Society (who want to keep people out) and the Bar Council (who think these people aren’t any of their responsibility). Attempting then to get indignant about people daring to call themselves barristers having spent 20k on an otherwise worthless qualification seems pretty pathetic.

(19)(2)

Anonymous

Re: Comment above

Superb post. You should post more.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Re: Comment above

I agree about closure of other routes. The end of the QLTT was unfair as it meant BVC grads now have to complete the LPC on top before going down the solicitor route.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I did the BPTC but have never proactively described myself as a barrister. When many of my contemporaries were called to the Bar they instantly went on FB with comments like “I’m a barrister now lolz” etc. I declined to do this.

I, if asked, explain to people the confusing way in which I could call myself a barrister (provided I’m not providing legal services) or cannot (if I am providing legal services). I explain that have passed the BPTC but have not done pupillage and am therefore not a qualified lawyer.

I have conducted a handful of pro bono ET trials and have found the combination of the BPTC and each subsequent experience an excellent foundation for developing advocacy. I found the BPTC provided me with a wide skill set and I feel it has greatly improved my ability in setting out cogent logical arguments and has improved my presentation of these arguments orally or in writing.

I feel the current system is illogical and the whole labelling thing should be cleared up so that there is a clear distinction between BPTC grads, practising barristers, and those who used to practise as barristers. I feel that for BPTC graduates, ‘BPTC grad’ is probably sufficient…

(5)(4)

VTESI

Cannon did pupillage and practiced at the bar – a totally different kettle of fish to the others.

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