Sep 17 2008

Reviewing the Legal500 review of the Scottish Bar, 2008

The 2008 edition of the Legal500 was published online last week. Its coverage of the Scottish Bar is here. It is useful, and so far as it goes seems broadly accurate albeit with many glaring omissions. There are several significant defects.

I cannot complain of my own coverage. I am kindly described in one section as ‘an excellent negotiator, willing to explore different ideas – a pragmatist’, and in another I am ‘recommended for judicial review‘.

My first criticism is Legal500’s compartmentalisation of advocates solely by subject area of law. The Overview rightly includes the ‘caveat that Scottish advocates tend to have wider practices than their English counterparts‘. But the entire treatment thereafter tends to suggest that advocates can be neatly pigeon-holed into particular areas. While there are advocates who are limited in this way, and the market is certainly moving in that direction, it has not gone there yet. Legal500’s approach practically ignores such questions as ‘who is good at appellate advocacy; or at dealing with a very difficult client with a hopeless case; or at mastering ten lever-arch files overnight‘. These seem to me to be more important questions to many instructing solicitors than expertise in a particular field of law; and rightly so. It is striking how many of Legal 500’s quotations recognise this; but its structure does not.

A major defect is that a number of areas take little or no account of junior counsel, however skilled, and however high their reputations. The ‘Civil Liberties, human rights, and public inquiries1’ page is a particularly egregious example, naming only two senior counsel and, extraordinarily, no junior counsel at all, although at least half a dozen could well have been recommended. ‘Employment’ is almost as inadequate; a field dominated by specialist juniors, but one only is mentioned. ‘Crime’ lists seven seniors, but only three juniors; and no solicitor-advocates, although this is about the only area in which there are solicitor-advocates who are frequently instructed by firms other than their own. These sections do not seem up to the standard of, for example, the ‘Family and childcare’ (sic) or ‘Personal injury, medical negligence and professional negligence‘ sections.

The worst sections are, without much doubt, the very closely-related ‘Civil Liberties, human rights, and public inquiries’ and ‘Public and Administrative Law including local government‘: and I say that in spite of my own mention in the latter. Here, Legal500’s coverage is utterly inadequate. The first page I have criticised above; its author cannot have been made aware of most of the leading practitioners in this field. The second, although fuller, is not a great deal better; it seems to be substantially taken from a press release from one stable, with the absurd result that its lead paragraph on an ‘exemplary House of Lords case‘ (which reads as if it lists a full cast) excludes the senior counsel who actually won the appeal against the odds2, like an air-brushed Soviet photograph. Most significantly, highly regarded junior counsel are again almost entirely excluded. No-one selecting counsel in these areas of law (or in neighbouring but ignored areas such as immigration, extradition, licensing, constitutional, or education law) should limit themselves to those listed by Legal500.

Legal500’s merit remains, as before, that a solicitor with no knowledge of Scottish counsel in a particular area of law will be pretty safe relying on its recommendations. But, as before, those recommendations are seriously incomplete. Its reviewers should spread their nets further.

  1. The inclusion of ‘public inquiries’ at this point seems strange. [back]
  2. She is mentioned later in the page as ‘highly experienced and respected‘. [back]
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One comment published to “Reviewing the Legal500 review of the Scottish Bar, 2008”

  1. Nick HortonNo Gravataron 24 Aug 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Very interesting comment… there’s no doubt that when they first appeared the Legal500 and similar directories helped to plug a gap both for clients and solicitors. However the legal market has moved on very rapidly in the last 15 years I have begun to suspect that their utility is waning except as a marketing device which is not where they started… certainly there are some very funny parts in the 2009 UK edition.

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