Comment

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]