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The Judge Rules: Charlotte Proudman should never have let herself become the story

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A cannier operator would have exposed ‘sexist’ message while keeping her identity hidden

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In some quarters the LinkedIn message lawyer row has been spun as an optimistic tale of a tech-savvy young feminist outwitting a sexist dinosaur in the progressive arena of social media.

Proudman’s brilliant use of her computer’s screenshot function, followed by her rapid dissemination of the image on Twitter, is the sort of bold move that is contributing to making old prejudices extinct, we have been told.

But strip away the ideological distractions, and you are left with the real story: a young, inexperienced barrister — let’s remember for a moment that the Mansfield Chambers family law junior is just 27 — took the decision to make public a piece of ill-judged private correspondence from a senior member of her extremely hierarchical profession. And the consequences have been explosive.

This was a terrible move for a lawyer to make. What members of the legal profession sell — particularly the self-employed hot shot barrister ones — is their knowledge of the rules and associated ability to push them to their limits, without breaking them. In breaching the convention of respect for private communications — which is a particularly big deal for the law with its love of all that “without prejudice” jargon — Proudman came across as unreliable and reckless. Worse, she exposed herself as someone who doesn’t really understand the game she is playing.

Tuckers boss Franklin Sinclair’s was a bit mean in publicly vowing to never instruct Proudman again, but anyone with moderate experience of the legal world could have predicted important solicitors would react like this.

Judging by her comments in the media over the last couple of days, Proudman is a long way from accepting the reality of her situation. So far, she is still arguing that the problem of sexism in law is so great that it trumps the importance of professionalism — and ultimately justified her taking a noble stand at great personal cost. Her supporters agree and have branded her a hero.

But at no point has anyone in the Proudman camp troubled to ask themselves if the barrister could have exposed Alexander Carter-Silk without endangering herself. In case you’d forgotten, Carter-Silk is the senior lawyer who sent the offending LinkedIn message — and has since been reduced to an almost bit part in the story as Proudman has assumed centre stage.

The answer is obviously that she could have kept her name out of this. If Proudman had been more media savvy she would have taken the screenshot and then sent it anonymously with her name and photo redacted — and Carter-Silk’s in full view — to the press.

Certainly Legal Cheek — and no doubt our competitors — would have been delighted to publish it. That’s the way the making public of private correspondence works: it’s possible, but to protect yourself you have to do it via a third party and not from your own Twitter account. At which point, Carter-Silk would have been in an impossible position. Because for him to have responded and revealed Proudman’s identity he would have had to have assumed the role of the active party, and been the bad guy who not only sent an inappropriate message but needlessly ruined the career of a poor junior barrister.

Having said all of that, we shouldn’t be too hard on Proudman. She’s not long out of university let alone bar school and she clearly has guts. Her career will recover from this, and perhaps even benefit, if — and it’s a big if given her reaction so far — she can be honest enough with herself to ignore all the armchair Twitter supporters egging her on and admit that she got this one wrong. After all, she’s now the best known junior barrister in the country.

Previously:

Boss of top legal aid firm vows to never instruct LinkedIn message barrister Charlotte Proudman again [Legal Cheek]

Feminist barrister tweets screenshot of senior male solicitor’s ‘sexist’ LinkedIn message [Legal Cheek]