Does the bar have a PR problem?
A leading blogger has delivered a stern message to her fellow barristers: stop being “clever dicks” on social media or risk making the bar a pariah profession.
Lucy Reed, author of the long-running Pink Tape blog and tenant at St John’s Chambers in Bristol, details a long list of unattractive qualities that she believes barristers on social media are inclined to exhibit:
“We are too often pompous, tone deaf, macho, always bloody right, sanctimonious, pedantic, holier than thou — and we have a specialness complex. And we just seem incapable of saying nothing (lawyers really should know the value of silence).”
Acknowledging that tweeting lawyers perform a public service when explaining the law, Reed questions the way in which some of them do it.
“[M]ust we be so gleeful, so irritating, so oblivious to the impact of our interventions, to the basic psychology that says the way you intervene affects the way people are likely to respond? Must we shred everyone in the process of making a point?”
Having cited “a number of high profile incidents and illustrations this year — at least two in recent weeks — of barristers badly misjudging what is appropriate conduct on social media and how the public will respond to it”, before clarifying that “this post is NOT about them”, Reed turns her attention to QCs:
“I am bracing for rotten tomatoes when I say that the general public might think it is a teeny bit odd that so many QCs feel the need to put ‘QC’ on their twitter profile (I’m sorry, I love many of you, but it is true). Does our special status matter so much to us? Do we think people will listen more because we put QC after our name? It may not be what we intend, but that seems to be what people read into it, when they mock real QCs by sporting fake ‘QC’ handles. And why should they listen more, just because we parade our importance in such a context?”
The way to win back the general public? A bit of humility, and a focus on earning respect rather than simply commanding it.
“What 2019 has shown me is that we may have great judgment in the confines of our litigation bubble, but we do not always have such great judgment in the real world. However, all is not lost. I like to think we can be useful and informative and interesting and witty — without behaving like prats with clodhoppers. I like to think we can deploy our knowledge and skill with kindness and with humility. I like to think we can express our true selves, but that we can do so more thoughtfully. I like to think we don’t need to self-censor, but that we just need to engage our capacious brains before we open our melifluous gobs … our problem is that we assume we should command respect when the truth is we have to earn it.”