The Bar Council has warned barristers about “bending the truth” when making claims on a personal or chambers website and said they must be able to support claims that they are one of the best in their field.
It comes in the wake of a Bar disciplinary tribunal reprimanding and fining Michael Wolkind QC over various claims on his personal website, such as that he was “the UK’s top criminal barrister”, that he could not substantiate.
He also had a testimonial from a lay client that said “Michael Wolkind QC could get Stevie Wonder a driving licence”.
New guidance from the Bar Councils ethics committee on how barristers can describe and advertise themselves on websites and other online marketing highlighted core duty 3 – acting with honesty and integrity – which “includes a requirement not to mislead, or to attempt to mislead, anyone knowingly or recklessly.
“’Bending the truth’ in claims about one’s knowledge, experience or abilities is unacceptable.”
The guidance said barristers should be “particularly careful about making comparisons with other persons as these may often be regarded as misleading”.
It explained: “Where claims of comparative quality or ability are made, it is better to make statements that can be justified objectively: ‘[Name] has been ranked as a leading junior in [field of work] by [name of directory]’ is acceptable, whereas an assertion without evidence that “[Name] is one of the best barristers in the country in [field of work]” needs very careful consideration as to how it could be supported if challenged, lest it be considered a misleading claim.
“‘[Name] is experienced / very experienced in [field of work]’ is acceptable where this can be demonstrated if required by involvement in previous cases. ‘[Name or chambers] is better than [name of rival barrister or chambers] in this area of law’ is unacceptable, as is ‘[Name or chambers] is the best in this area of law’.”
While counsel may cite quotations from lay and professional clients, they cannot use them to make claims that they would be prohibited from making themselves.
The rules also warn against advertising a willingness to breach the cab-rank rule by saying, for example, “I will only ever act for tenants”.
Barristers advertising for work abroad must comply with the local rules about marketing, they added.