Writing barrister profiles

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead.”

This quote is attributed to Mark Twain, and I would certainly agree that writing something brief which manages to convey essential information is surprisingly time-consuming. I am assuming here that you have been given the task of preparing a new set of CV’s for your chamber’s website. Being concise whilst making your subjects come alive should be your aim.

Virtually every chamber provides an introductory profile of each barrister which gives an over-view of their work. The trick is to make this first section of the CV interesting and individual. To achieve that, it should also describe their approach and style. The second part of a CV should be more detailed and is often provided in a linked PDF. It should break down into different areas of practice with a brief outline of the barrister’s work in each field. Selected cases can accompany each of these sections.

So, to return to the main subject of this article – the short introductory profile – what should you select about each barrister? Simply editing existing CVs is a bad idea. To make the profiles lively, fresh, and up-to-date, it is essential for you, the writer, to talk to each barrister. What does one ask?

Practice areas

It’s a good idea to start by asking which practice areas listed on the barrister’s current website CV are truly those in which he or she regularly works. Often, rather a lot of borderline practice areas are put into a CV as a sort of catch-all. Doing a fresh profile is a good chance to make sure the focus is tighter and in the right places. More than that, it’s a chance to seek out new work in a desired field by saying outright that the barrister would welcome instructions in a particular area.

Personal qualities

Describing personal qualities brings a profile to life because it differentiates one barrister from another. When interviewing, never put words into your subject’s mouth. Instead, ask him or her to put away their modesty (they usually do this without too much difficulty) and tell you why a solicitor should instruct them in preference to another barrister with the same practice. The answers will enable you to indicate not only the way they work, but also their personality. One barrister will say he deliberately uses a genial approach which reduces the stress of disputes for his clients. Another will tell you about the extraordinary amount of preparation he undertakes, or about his extreme attention to complex technical matters. And some, of course, will talk about their overriding power as advocates, and their aggressive courtroom skills.

What you will be hoping to hear, and therefore to include in the profile, is that the barrister makes him or herself easily available, because what solicitors seek above all is a barrister who is readily available – one who will see them promptly, get on top of the papers quickly, turn them around in a few days, and deal with them efficiently throughout. Sometimes a solicitor or client may want a more aggressive barrister if they are going to court but, as you will already know, power is not always a good attribute and can even be counter-productive. For example, if the barrister is representing an employer on a DDA claim in an Industrial Tribunal.

The worst negative quality as far as solicitors are concerned is a barrister that they can never get hold of, and who fails to respond to communications. Those that forget the names of the parties go down pretty badly too!

What to omit

In a short introductory profile one needs to be selective, you should give an accurate range of the barrister’s practice and omit areas in which he or she has not worked for ages, or does not really want to work. The chambers will benefit from mention of particular case names because search engines will pick them up, but do not go into detail. Leave that to the secondary part of the CV which enlarges on practice areas. Should one mention judicial office? Some instructing solicitors are not much influenced by it. Indeed, judicial office can even act as a deterrent if it gets in the way of turning work around quickly, so consider its inclusion carefully. Willingness to travel is useful but probably assumed, so there’s no need to mention it. Personal hobbies are not relevant unless they very specifically contribute to the barrister’s practice – and this would be most unusual. Avoid saying a barrister usually acts for the prosecution, or usually acts for the defence. It is seldom the case, and may close doors to potential work.

Whether to use quotes

We all like to think that we ignore quotes, just as we imagine we ignore most advertising. The truth is that quotes do influence us, albeit sub-consciously. I would therefore recommend including one really good quote in the short introductory profile. In addition, I would select quotes relevant to each area of law in the second part of the CV where the barrister’s expertise is described in more detail. For all quotes, I would select from current publications so that at least you start off with up-to-date quotes, even though they may be old by the time your website is updated again.

Alison Hunt is a copywriter and editor of websites and brochures. She has previously written for the Newsletter on the subject of fee-earner profiles.

Email mrs.alisonhunt@btinternet.com.