Barristers have been told to back up claims that they are the best in their field or have ranked highly compared to competitors when marketing themselves online.
According to a new document published by the Bar Council ‘it is better to make statements that can be justified objectively’ where comparisons are made.
The representative body said a barrister should not simply say he or she has been ranked as a ‘leading junior’ or ‘one of the best barristers in the country’. The council said an assertion without evidence needs ‘very careful consideration’ as it could be challenged and the barrister in question would need to be able to support the claim.
Giving an example of an acceptable description, it recommended: ‘[Name] is experienced/very experienced in [field of work]’ provided it can be backed up by involvement in previous cases.
Barristers are also urged to not mislead or ‘bend the truth’ regarding their abilities or knowledge or describe pupils as a member of the chamber in any form.
The recommendations are outlined in a document published by the council about how they can describe themselves on social media and on chambers’ websites.
Last month the Gazette reported that QC Michael Wolkind had been fined £1,000 by the barristers’ regulator the Bar Standards Board for making claims on his personal website ‘likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public placed in him or the profession’. The website, topcriminalqc.co.uk, had contained statements including that Wolkind was ‘the UK’s top criminal barrister’.
The site also claimed he was ‘widely recognised as the UK’s top murder barrister and QC; top protest case barrister and QC; top terrorism barrister and QC; top property householder self-defence rights barrister and QC and top regulatory, inquest health and safety and tribunal barrister and QC’. It also included a testimony that he could ‘get Stevie Wonder a driver’s licence’.
Also of concern to the council is advocates naming defendants for whom they have secured an acquittal. This, the council says, should require ‘careful thought’ as to whether it is ‘appropriate and relevant’ to use the defendant’s name on a website or in marketing material, ‘not least because of the potential ongoing effect for an acquitted defendant of such mention’.
Earlier this year, the Gazette reported that an independent observer had recommended that the BSB update its social media policy.
In a final report to the regulator at January’s board meeting, former banker Isobel Leaviss said the BSB’s current policy, which surrounds ‘media comment’, should be updated following a ‘number of complaints’.