The Bar Standards Board have identified a potential problem amongst barristers in “cross-cultural communication.” There is a fear that the Bar may be too caught up in its own “tribal culture” and rely too much upon overly technical language which may lead to a miscarriage of justice.
This problem was identified at a recent “symposium” hosted by the BSB. Yes, that’s right, a symposium. The Greek scholars amongst you will know that a symposium was a drinking party back in the day. Now it is a talking shop.
Discussing cross cultural communication in something you decide to call a symposium would be described by members of my Private-Eye-reading tribe as “you couldn’t make it up” whereas the man on the Clapham omnibus might suggest they were “havin’ a f*#%in’ laugh”.
You can read the report of this symposium (I have now broken my own national record for the number of times someone from my cultural background has used the word symposium in a single day) here. I do suggest you read it. There are some valid points in it. Yet it illustrates a continuing problem with the Bar’s regulator – they really have no idea how to communicate to us.
I appreciate that they are there to regulate. I do not expect to be regularly stopped by the Traffic Police and be congratulated for driving within the speed limit whilst maintaining a safe distance between myself and the car ahead. The problem is that so often the BSB’s message is lost amongst the collective sighs from the profession as they descend into their tribal language of “stakeholders” and “outcomes”.
Even the most open minded of the profession sometimes shrug their shoulders and ask themselves “do the BSB really understand what we do and why we do it?”
There is a section of the report about the Bar’s tribal nature. Whilst I fancy the notion of Jett Street Chambers facing off with Shark Court in a knife fight over recruiting the new pupil Maria or Marius, this is not what is being described. The Report describes the perception of the Bar as being subtle coded messages in the way we dress and our education – in short a terrible stereotype of the Bar.
There is a degree of uniformity about the way we dress, brought about by very necessary rules and conventions. The advocate with shocking dyed orange hair may scream diversity and non-conformity, but they also scream “look at me” and the courtroom quickly descends from analysis of the evidence to fashion parade.
I have often said that the Bar has a long way to go in terms of diversity, and I fear economic pressures may cause us to slide backwards, but the BSB should be doing all it can to fight these lazy stereotypes of an Oxbridge educated Bar, not promoting this image. We have come a long way and continue a positive direction of travel.
There is a great example of the BSB’s introspection in the Report. There is mention of the Cab Rank Rule and the words are accompanied by a footnote which goes on to clearly explain this technical shorthand for a vital aspect of the profession. Bravo! Yet the Report also tells us the discussion was held under “Chatham House Rules” without further explanation. All the regular readers of regulatory symposia will, of course, understand exactly what the “Rule” is. But that understanding and the assumption of understanding is all, well, a little tribal.
I am sure everyone could benefit in lessons in effective communication across a broad spectrum of people. A good place to start is this report and an example of how not to do it.