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Bar Talk
9 June, 2009  
The protocols of barristering

VicBar has been working out how to massage the message … In NSW barristers chew the fat on the imperfect silk selection system

imageBoth Victorian and New South Welsh bars had cosy information sessions for members-only last week.

In Melbourne it was to introduce the new VicBar media protocols, “what they mean, how to use them and how to make them work for you”.

This is the work of Alicia Patterson (seen here), the bar’s new marketing and PR muffin.

She’s part of House Communications, an offspring of executive receuitment outfit Seldon Gill.

House has been retained as a consultant by the bar to spiff up its image.

Alicia has come from a marketing life at law shops and the LIV and her web site message says:

“House is my way of pulling together all that experience and making sure I stay challenged.”

What better place to stay challenged than at the Victorian Bar, notorious for the dire, up-itself face it presents to the world.

“Hopeless and painful” are the reactions generations of reptiles have experienced after trying to extract a modicum of information from the bumbling VicBar message machine.

In NSW the bar has dramatically improved its communication “outreach” from the days of the old sea dogs, who barely knew how to use the telephonic thingy.

Victoria, for far too long, has stayed inaccessibly at sea.

Alicia can only be an improvement.

Her main game at the moment is to manage members’ response to media calls, how to get a story out there (if anyone has a story) and to flush out barristers who can speak coherently in public on compelling legal issues of the moment.

All of which, apparently, requires a “protocol” so that the razzle-dazzle stays on message.

* * *

imageThe NSW Bar gave its “protocol” for the silk selection business a run around the barnyard last Thursday evening (June 4).

Anna Katzmann and Mark Ierace, both of whom were on last year’s selection committee, parried queries from eager hopefuls.

(Anna Katzmann pic© Mark Tedeschi QC.)

The show was billed as an information night – to explain what happens during the consultation process with about 650 worthies and the nature of the debriefing for the rejectees.

Katzmann told the throng that contenders can also nominate people who might speak to their applications – people such as judges, opponents and other barristers with whom they have worked. After the meeting Katzmann told your scribe:

“This is particularly helpful for barristers who practice interstate or overseas, also for applicants who don’t have a lot of court appearances but do a lot of advice work.”

She concedes that “it is impossible to design the perfect silk selection system” but adds, “it is a lot better than the one we had”.

The main innovation in the last few years is that the 650 or so who are “consulted” are required to disclose on the form whether they have had direct personal experience of the applicant in the past five years.

This is designed to filter out those who tick the “No” box without having the faintest clue about a candidate’s work and to prevent people getting silk by simply being popular.

Quite how that works is not altogether clear. Members of the consultation group are still capable of failing to make the proper disclosure.

The only safeguard is that the group is so vast that a bit of fudging shouldn’t overly distort the outcome.

Katzmann added:

“To some extent there is an element of that [the popularity contest] in that if you are highly regarded you’ll have a strong following. The system will pick it up if you are talented.”

Your scribe was accused of having an “unhealthy interest” in this topic.

Maybe it is brought on by a mechanism designed to leverage the trade’s fees in an unhealthy manner.

As the Cunneen case showed, candidates can be punished for years on end, even if they have ability. Then there are the barristers with busy practices who, having been rejected for spurious reasons in the past, won’t touch the selection process with a barge pole.

To say the system is better than the one that previously existed is not saying much.


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