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Are other legal practice areas ‘less prestigious’ than commercial law?

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A high profile QC is accused of thinking so, but many lawyers disagree

A row broke out this week after a high profile tax QC suggested that other legal practice areas were “less prestigious” than commercial areas of law?

Many lawyers on Twitter strongly disagreed with Jolyon Maugham’s tweet.

But others backed the barrister, who is well known for combining his tax work with a pro bono practice that has supported various legal challenges seeking to block Brexit.

Maugham, who practises from Devereux Chambers, has since issued a statement, via Twitter, adding to his earlier tweet, that we have reproduced below:

“Let me respond to the criticisms made of me, in no particular order.First, the word that seems to have caused offence in my tweet is “prestige” which is not a synonym of “value”. I am surprised that lawyers skilled in language are missing that basic point.

Second, the tweet was directed at female students, seeking to persuade them to consider commercial/chancery practice, an area in which they are underrepresented. It is a fact that students perceive commercial/chancery practice as more prestigious (see eg the study Professor Richard Moorhead tweeted yesterday). My tweet could either have sought to persuade them to apply to an area in which they are underrepresented or to tell them they are wrong to see commercial/chancery practice thus.

I chose the former – and make no apology for it – but the way I live my life and the fact I have given up about 75% of my paid practice will reveal very clearly my own views about whether earnings are to equated with value. To avoid any doubt, I also said explicitly a number of times yesterday that I did not equate prestige with value.

Third, I was asked by a woman to tweet as I did, in support of an event promoting gender equality. Indeed, I am often asked by women (and men) to amplify the work they are doing to promote gender equality goals that we share. I do a lot of work in the area – for example I sat on the Bar’s recruitment and retention sub-committee for about six years – and no doubt that is why those working in the field ask me to amplify their work. The woman who asked me to send the tweet is happy with it and she is pleased that it reached so many young women.

Fourth, there is a lot of evidence, a lot, that women barristers are pushed, against their will, into areas of work that are perceived to be of low value, and are certainly underpaid, including in particular of family law. The last figures I saw for the Bar as a whole showed that average male earnings were double those for women. That is a real problem to be addressed and I rather wish the Bar was as animated on social media about that, and other examples of sexism at the Bar, as they are about the perceived slight to their particular areas of practice. But then, like most professions, we are not always adept at seeing ourselves as others see us.

Fifth, I have a sense that what is at stake for some respondents is a sense at the publicly funded Bar that their work has been neglected by successive Governments. They are right to think that but my tweets are not the right target for their unhappiness. I do not make those choices and few could believe me to be a fan of this Government. I have been able to speak directly to a number of Lord Chancellors and I have spoken to them privately about some policy issues. But I fear funding of legal aid is not a matter even for them.

If the Bar as a profession wants to be heard on public policy issues then more of us will need to engage with the concerns of the outside world, bringing to bear our collective expertise, critically, for the common good. Many of us already do – but too few. Relevantly we will also want to work to secure that the privileges of life at the Bar are enjoyed by all without regard to externalities like race or gender or class. Such action would enhance the stature of the Bar and address the perception amongst a number of influential voices in politics, sadly often justified, that parts of our profession are often self-interested and insular.”

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31 Comments

Anonymous

Yes.

Thanks for asking.

Anonymous

This guy can’t seem to keep his foot out of his moth recently.

The ‘moth’

Don’t drag me into this mess

Anonymous

*ahem* This guy can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth recently

Anonymous

You need to have a really small foot to be able to put it in a moth. But then you know what they say about people with small feet…

Beatrice

They require large moths?

Kirkland NQ

*clears throat*

Kirkland NQ

*sits outside of high street criminal and conveyancing practice in lambo, revving engine occasionally*

Just wondering

Do.. do you think that being at Kirkland is more prestigious than being at the bar?

Anonymous

If you’re interested in transactions, then obviously. If you’re interested in having global CV recognition (and associated exit opportunities to host of other legal practices, in house, or quasi legal roles around the world) then also yes.

If you’re interested in UK litigation, probably not.

Bazza

It pains me to say it but Jolyon is right here. But if you live by the woke identity politics sword then you’re also going to die by it so he can have few complaints.

Basic fail

Says that prestige does not mean low value, and makes a sarcastic, passive aggressive comment about his colleagues at the bar not being able to distinguish.

Then he says that women are pushed into low value areas.

So, which is it? Prestige? Value? Both?

Barry GG

Jolyon is finally beginning to learn that making enemies out of your colleagues comes with a significant long-term cost. Bad faith breeds bad faith.

I predict a very sticky end for this angry, narcissistic little gimp.

Anonymous

Prestige in the legal profession is usually correlated with the rates a lawyer can demand. It’s not the only metric, but it’s a big one. Needless to say there are exceptions.

On average, specialist corporate tax lawyers demand the highest rates. How many of us would say tax law is actually “prestigious”? That being said, if I was smart and dull enough for it I definitely would have chosen to qualify into that area. Prestige doesn’t pay my bills or guarantee job security.

Anonymous

He’s right. Some are attracted to areas out of vocational interest, some because it is the only gig they can get.

Anonymous

It’s a jolly holiday with Jolyon, cucking like a good white knight.

Thinks he seems cool and virtuous, but he just caused a Twitter fight.

FFS

What a lot of TrIGgErReD snowflakes. I don’t like Jo Maugham but of course he wasn’t saying that areas outside of commercial law are of any less value. No law student or member of the public thinks family law or criminal law is “prestigious” compared to soul-sucking commercial law.

Credit Hire Paralegal

I’m literally disgusted

Anonymous

*disgusting. Fixed that for yah.

...

Crime (having someone’s life in your hands) and getting to work on the best cases and meeting some very interesting people vs helping a greedy company flicking through pages of bank statements … know what one I’d rather do

Anonymous

You don’t sound chippy at all

ms-w afer fru

Pensions is the most presitigious area. All other area are merely chump areas for non-intellectual heavyweights.

Legal Officer with a 2.ii

The word vomit quicksand that followed is much worse than the actual tweet.

Legal Cheek’s First CyberNat #IndyRef2020 #VoteYes2020

Nonsense. Less well paid maybe, but not less prestigious.

X Pensive

I do not care about prestige. I do care about what I earn. When it comes to that commercial wins, hands down, many many times over. IP, tax, planning, pensions practitioners all probably earn more among their group than mainstream commercial, but they are tiny in number compared to commercial bar as a whole.

Legal Genius

Why pensions and planning lol. ECM/DCM/PE/HFs is where the money’s at, wiseguy.

Anonymous

Planning, because like tax, the clients pay when you are going to directly make them money. Pensions because the pots of money are huge and everyone is paid from that pot. And “wiseguy”? What is this 1982?

Anonymous

Forgetaboutit!

Anon

Yes. It goes private equity, funds, leveraged finance, restructuring….everything else in terms of City eliteness.

Anon

Unrelated to the topic, but here goes:

I am an aspiring barrister and wish to join a common law set in London.

My grades are good and I have plenty of legal experience. I have applied for a BPTC scholarship and have submitted my application to join Inner Temple.

Currently, I do not have access to mentors. I lack the personal and professional connections.

I feel that this places me at an disadvantage during Pupillage applications. I’d be grateful if a practising barrister could spare a few moments of their time to discuss applications with me.

Barrister

Get in touch with the careers department at Inner Temple. Gray’s sorted me out in a similar situation, and I’m sure the IT will be able to do it for you.

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