Saturday, 22 October 2011

David Barber

You could be forgiven for thinking that cutting edge marketing at the Bar is a wholly new phenomenon. But of course barristers clerks have been at the sharp end of 'business development' for decades - with, historically, a far greater responsibility for reeling in business directly than any law firm marketing manager.

I had a fascinating conversation this week with seasoned Chief Clerk at Pump Court Chambers David Barber. He tells a wonderful story of when he first stepped in to the Chief Clerk role at Pump Court Chambers some 15 years ago: at the time, the delineation between the circuits meant that jobs in certain parts of Hampshire were considered 'local' to London sets, who would then charge travel which the client solicitor couldn't reclaim. With a base in Winchester as well as London, Dave cannily spotted an opportunity to sell an advantage to solicitor clients by reminding them Pump Court could take on this work without that additional layer of travel costs. So a mailshot was prepared and sent. Whilst well received by clients and contacts, and successful in terms of bringing new clients into the fold, it was rather frowned upon by the Bar Council at the time - in fact formally challenged. Was this 'brazen' approach appropriate from such a well-regarded barristers set? Dave took the Bar Council on - and won his point.

Today the set is known for its strategic, as well as tactical, thinking - and still retains just a cute a sense of what's really important to clients as it did 15 years ago: that a good service, from people who know how to work in a  legal team is just as important as top-knotch legal expertise. Times have moved on and the game may be different and more complex today, but this principle remains the same.


What a week for grim news... I hardly know what to pick. The Government's desire to re-wind our commitment to European Human Rights legislation is worrying enough, without our Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge suggesting British courts are free to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. (Thank goodness Supreme Court head Lord Phillips stepped in to remind everyone that the Strasbourg court does in fact have to be followed).  

Grim also, in its way, is the latest development in the very sorry story of our Justice Minister Djanogly, whose regulatory role has now actually been curtailed to withdraw his authority over claims companies because of a conflict of interest he failed to declare.  No, you did hear me right, I am talking about our Justice Minister.

But grimmest of all has to be the way the death of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi was covered by the media. Are we all comfortable with such graphic photo imagery?  The Guardian posted a twitter debate about its use of the images, which makes interesting reading. As to the conduct of the death sentence on Gaddafi itself, I'll leave Amnesty to comment on that - and the less said about Hilary Clinton's reaction the better. Wow indeed.

But Lord Judge also wins the prize for the most deft communication of the week, on the topic of the reform of our defamation laws and threats to press freedom. That tricky balance of protecting both reputations and freedom of speech was examined again this week as the draft defamation Bill was scrutinised this Wednesday by a joint committee of the Lords and Commons. An eminently sensible amendment was suggested, giving further protection to legitimate investigative journalism, that needs in the public interest to go beyond the boundaries of what can be proved true.

Speaking on press freedom at the Justice Human Rights Law Conference, Lord Judge stressed that the 'priceless' role that investigative journalists play in unearthing scandals must not be diluted by knee-jerk regulation following the phone-hacking scandal. He made his point beautifully, acknowledging the 'cruelty and insensitivity' of the behaviour of the worst (in fact criminal) parts of the press, most notably the phone-hacking in the Milly Dowler case, and pointing out that this very conduct was of course brought to our attention by... another part of the press:

"The first of these scandals - the cuelty and unfairness – should never happen. The second – the revelation of a public scandal – must be allowed to continue to happen."  

Excellent point well made.  

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