Commentators often cite Ronald Reagan’s successful run to the White House in 1980 as the moment when the Presidency of the United States was ‘demystified’. To an outsider wanting to gain access to the profession, the Bar always seemed to be something elusive and shrouded in mystique.
I became a pupil-barrister from the outside. To borrow a phrase I despise, I was a ‘non-traditional applicant’. Although the Bar has changed so much in the last couple of decades, I didn’t have many, if any, legal connections or a first class law degree from Oxbridge. On my journey to pupillage and throughout the course of this gruelling year I learnt so much and saw so many things that I wouldn’t have believed or known before I came to the Bar – they include the good, the bad and the downright hideous.
I started a Twitter account to show people the day-to-day realities of life at the criminal Bar especially. I wanted to ‘demystify’ the Bar. As someone who battles against a lack of self-confidence, anxiety and a sometimes hugely complex working environment I occasionally don’t understand, I wanted to expose the realities to show that barristers aren’t (all) super-human. We are just human and we aren’t perfect. I get nervous standing up in court, I second-guess my interpretation of the law and I see everyone making occasional mistakes and learning from them. I think that is a fantastic side of the Bar to show people.
I see injustice; I see a system which has been brought to its knees by cuts; I see bureaucracy and political correctness run amok at times; I see the range and depth of human depravity; and most of all I see interesting things every day. I think they should be shared and light shone upon them.
I use Twitter to share, to confess, to reveal, to praise, to critique and occasionally to poke fun. I do so anonymously because sometimes people don’t like to hear the truth and, seemingly more now than ever before, people are more polarised in their opinions and sometimes hold other’s opinions against them. There will be sticky moments when people don’t agree with me, but I hope that I can amuse, teach, show and most importantly ‘demystify’. Twitter is the perfect environment through which to do so.
Masked for good
The Secret Barrister,@barristersecret
The joy of Twitter, for me, is its immediacy. My reason for existing is to demystify and debunk myths about the legal system, and to draw attention to the serious issues in criminal justice that are often overlooked. Being able to respond to a news story by immediately firing out a comment or a rebuttal to 150k people – with the prospect that they will then share it with their own followers – provides a platform which would be simply unheard of for an anonymous writer a decade ago. It has its obvious limitation – social media is where nuance goes to die – but as a loudhailer to draw attention to longer stories, reports or blogposts, Twitter has been useful well beyond my expectations when I took it up three years ago. The environment is not always pleasant, and you will be met with hostility and abuse as often as reasoned debate, but if you are prepared to accept Twitter for what it is, it can be an invaluable tool for public communication.
Instagram: a window into the Bar
Georgina Wolfe, @5essexcourt_pupillages
‘No one’s on Facebook anymore,’ we started to hear from students, ‘It’s all about Insta now.’ ‘Insta,’ we deduced, was Instagram, the website that allows users to upload and share photographs and videos, often with witty hashtags and flattering filters. We had been one of the first pupillage committees to take to Twitter, joining in January 2013 with the handle @pupillages. Our aim was to share information and advice on getting pupillage, particularly with students from diverse backgrounds and without contacts within the profession. But now it seemed there was a new kid on the block.
We were keen to embrace this new way to connect but were unsure how best to do it – the Bar, after all, is not exactly a visual industry. ‘Is it all going to be White Books and wigs?’ was a common question we faced. The junior end of chambers, however, was quick to see the potential. They started volunteering to run the account and circulating images through a WhatsApp group. Soon we had gathered a selection of images and started to see how the account might take shape. It has now been up and running for three months and we have over 600 followers. It has featured images and videos showing the social side of chambers (from new tenants’ drinks to the Women in Law Summit); the glamorous side (international travel and high-profile court cases); to the less glamorous but often humorous realities (early starts and wheelie bags over cattle grids).
We hope that it offers a window into this unique profession and shows those who might be deterred by ideas of grand halls and dusty libraries that there is a space here for everyone with
the skills and aptitude for the Bar, irrespective of their background.
GLD and Twitter
Jonathan Jones, GLD Permanent Secretary and Treasury Solicitor, @PermSecGLD
I started tweeting about a year ago, following the example of the late Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and a number of other Permanent Secretaries. I was new to social media and wasn’t sure I would take to it. I also knew I couldn’t get into political debate or (of course) breach any client confidences, and feared this would stop me from tweeting anything really juicy.
Despite not being able to weigh into topical debates on, say, Brexit or legal services funding, I’ve found Twitter to be a useful way of giving a flavour of the immensely varied and important work we do in the Government Legal Department (GLD). That might be anything from legislation on the ivory ban or smart meters, to Supreme Court cases on immigration or welfare, to the specialist work of our employment or commercial groups. I’ve also tweeted about some of the quirks of my own role – including a thread on ‘Things You May Not Know About The Treasury Solicitor’. I’m the Civil Service Champion for Health and Wellbeing, and have used Twitter to spread messages about our various initiatives in that area. More generally, I tweet about departmental news, events, appointments and recruitment opportunities.
I don’t follow a huge number of people – mainly a mixture of clients (government departments, Ministers and senior officials), official legal sources (the Judicial Office, Supreme Court, professional bodies) and legal commentators like Joshua Rozenberg, David Allen Green and The Secret Barrister.
A lot of what we do in GLD happens behind the scenes and I suspect is not widely understood, so Twitter has helped in reaching a wider audience. If this encourages potential recruits to think about joining us, so much the better. I hope some of my senior colleagues in GLD will take the plunge as well. We include my Twitter feed on the GLD intranet so it’s another way of reaching people in my own department – about 2,500 people spread around multiple sites in London and elsewhere – but I still get the most ‘likes’ when I tweet pictures of the Cabinet Office cats.
Shout and meet
Professor Felicity Gerry QC, @felicitygerry
In 2012 when I was on the Bar Council Public Affairs Committee, the then Chair of the Bar, Peter Lodder QC invited all members of the Committee to tweet as part of our programme of public engagement and initiative to demonstrate diversity at the Bar. He thought I would relish it and I did. Twitter is a gold mine of information as well as a cess pit of opinion but overall I see it as a feminist tool: there are not many women Silks and even fewer who do what I do, nationally and internationally. I hope my tweeting encourages women of all ages and backgrounds to persevere and achieve.
I find LinkedIn more informative on commercial issues and for business opportunities. I have used Facebook and WeChat for engagement with colleagues and friends, particularly in the ASEAN region and China where some platforms are restricted. Over the years I have posted my achievements which include taking Silk, achieving a Masters in International Governance and becoming a Professor of Legal Practice at Deakin University. I have also published links to various projects, media opportunities, books, articles and government submissions in England and Australia. This has been useful in creating associations with researchers, practitioners and campaigners in the same fields.
I have also used my profile to campaign to #endFGM and combat #humantrafficking. I am a little quiet at the moment as I try to get my PhD over the line and there are inevitably some restrictions on public messaging when I am in a trial, but overall it has been a pleasure and I particularly encourage those who work internationally to find a platform to shout and meet.
Professional or personal?
Michael Salter, @michaelelyplace
My experience with social media is limited to LinkedIn and Twitter. I started using Twitter with the idea of maintaining two separate accounts; one personal and one professional. However, within a short period of time I found that to be impractical. Many of the people I follow are of personal interest, be they writers for sports I am interested in, or players of those sports. Those I follow for work purposes are either people I know, or leaders in their field, or both.
On a professional level, I think that Twitter holds more opportunities for chambers than individual barristers. It’s a quick and easy way to convey achievements and push the chambers brand, whereas individuals overtly pushing themselves make me feel uncomfortable. My work-related comments on Twitter are generally musings. Recently I commented on a pleading I saw referring to the ‘otter of employment’ and another that referred to the ‘clam of unfair dismissal’.
In my eyes, Twitter is, as it wants us to believe, a conversation. So I ask: would I want to say this to a friend of mine in conversation? If not, then (I hope) I would not put it on Twitter.
Whereas Twitter for me is largely personal, LinkedIn is wholly professional and I am a lot more selective about who I accept as a contact and who I approach. LinkedIn is something of an untapped resource for me, and I suspect it’s the same with other barristers. I have put up a page and largely left it, hoping that its mere presence will somehow pay dividends in the long run. Indeed, with the proliferation of platforms for raising profiles having a passive LinkedIn account does seem somewhat superfluous. There does appear to be something of a shift going on with LinkedIn, however, and posts are becoming more personal than they were before. It may be because of my somewhat limited exposure on LinkedIn means I have missed much of what occurs, but discussion there appears to be a lot less, and yet more respectful, as opposed to Twitter.