Barrister & Company Secretary Caroline BuchanChambers of Miss C Buchan
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January, 2012
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Not ditching the wig yet


Not ditching the wig yet!
I have been to two excellent local networking events recently, one with Warren Cass last week at the Jury's Inn, Brighton which was great fun as the speaker was a former Apprentice contender and the other yesterday with Sussex Enterprise at Park House near Midhurst, as beautiful a location as any you'll find in Sussex. Certainly the warm pastries would have got Mary Berry's seal of approval. What made me stop in my tracks was the cheery farewell from one attendee who wishes me luck in "ditching my wig"! 
I've never wanted to stop doing advocacy work for clients and this comment had the effect of making me realise, with great certainty, that in true Steve Jobs style I love my job. It also gave me a bit of a ‘heads-up’ about marketing services and how people perceive what I can do for my clients. 
It helps, of course, if potential clients understand what you do and how you can help them. My interactions with other networkers have taught me that they have a very specific idea of what a Barrister is and not much of an idea about what a dedicated Company Secretary can offer a business - or even if they require one. That being said, I am as ignorant of many areas of business myself and would like to know, for example, more about what a management consultant really does.      
I've learnt to deal with the myths and educate where there is a lack of knowledge and do it in a snappy way that shows where you can "add value" to their lives or business. This apparently should be possible with a succinct "elevator pitch" ideally delivered in the time it takes to travel 6-10 floors. 
A Limited Company doesn't need a Company Secretary but can benefit from using one to manage its statutory administrative obligations and the corporate governance regulations with which companies have to comply. 
Barristers, also sometimes referred to as Counsel, have been directly accessible to the public since 2004 under the Direct Public Access scheme regulated by the Bar Council and can advise on all aspects of a matter like a one stop shop as well as go to court (with or without the wig) to represent a client. Further Barristers are often not more expensive than solicitors because we have less in the way of overheads and will often charge a fixed fee.
Following on from my recent column about "Tesco Law", the Legal Services Act came into force on Thursday, which was all over the news. It stirred up the inevitable talk of supermarkets undercutting High Street solicitors. As already discussed it pays to be flexible with your business and in meeting clients' needs. According to the righthonourable Ken Clarke QC MP's recent letter to the Chair of the Bar regarding changes to legal aid, efficiency and value for money are paramount and to be considered along with the already high ethical standards and sense of public service associated with the Bar. Note to solicitors, I suspect this can be applied to you too. The message is clear that professions have to change and adapt to current circumstances - and why not? We're more than capable of working in a modern way and remaining professional.
Herewith a clarification. The Tories have had their spat this week about the cat. The judicial decision in question related to a Bolivian student applicant's right to family life under Article 8 of the much-maligned European Convention on Human Rights with an unmarried British partner; the cat was secondary. The point made at the party conference might better have been in Cameron's speech about marriage and gay partnerships. The decision was upheld by the judge who noted that the cat need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice.    
We don't all wear wigs to work, but I still have mine and don't mind wearing it. Let's talk about wigs and gowns. The gown dates back to mediaeval times and was a sign of learning, as were the bands around the neck. By 1600, after centuries of brightly- coloured gowns, black became the colour of choice and upon the death of Charles II it became a mourning gown. Legend has it that barristers were literally paid with a "back hander" when their instructing solicitors put money into the little pocket-type thing that hangs over the shoulder on the barrister's gown. The wig itself was a fashionable addition brought back to England by Charles II from the court of Louis XIV and their size became the inevitable source of competition between men; from whence we get theterm "bigwig"!   
Changes to court dress announced by the Lord Chief Justice took place in autumn 2008 and the wearing of wigs in the family courts has been completely abolished in an effort to make judges and barristers appear more approachable, including removing the necessity to be fully robed. This was an important and positive step to take in family hearings where children and young people are involved, so as not to seem intimidating. Robes and wigs are still frequently worn in the higher courts of England and Wales and the County Court unless the judge dispenses with wearing them, say on hot days, because the horse hair tie-wig can get a little scratchy.
The Bar recommended in a letter by its Chair that advocates should retain their existing formal robes (including wigs) in all cases, civil and criminal, with possible exceptions in the County Court for a good reason:
" There is strong identification of the Bar of England and Wales in the public's mind and its formal dress nationally and internationally."
In criminal cases, although not worn in magistrates’ courts, I think wigs and gowns add a certain measure of gravitas to the proceedings and respect for the court process as a whole. It also gives a measure of anonymity to Counsel so you focus instead on what is said and less on the individual speaking. It says what it is on the tin and Counsel can also escape more easily from the court house and any disgruntled relatives!
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