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Laura Perrins: Chippy Proudman moans about sexism in the workplace. But there was no sexism or, indeed, workplace


I have thought long and hard about this Charlotte Proudman story, figuring eventually that her denunciation of a fellow lawyer with the temerity to admire her looks will go away. Then I read a so-called interview with her in Saturday’s Times and said, that is it, and I have had enough.

It is not Ms Proudman that irks me specifically – it is the rubbish mainstream media and their appalling excuse for journalism. The MSM, could not get enough of this story – sexism in the workplace, in particular, at the Bar, that so-called last bastion of male privilege and sexism.

Perhaps, there is some sexism at the Bar but I did not experience any for the short time I was there, neither from briefing solicitors, members of chambers nor more importantly the clerks who hand out work from solicitors to barristers.

I am not going to rehash this entire story here. First, it is worth pointing out that currently and at the time of the incident, Ms Proudman although a barrister, true, was not and is not currently practising at the Bar.

The website of Mansfield Chambers QC tells us she is an associate tenant, which means she does not do day-to-day court work. She is not at the Dartford County Court sorting out a private law children dispute on a wet and rainy Monday morning.

Proudman has instead, “taken sabbatical from practice in order to complete a PhD in political sociology at the University of Cambridge”, specifically researching female genital mutilation FGM for a post-grad degree at Cambridge University, while being a visiting researcher at Harvard. All very impressive – maybe she will solve FGM, maybe she will not. But what she is not doing is practising at the Family Bar.

So to be clear this incident of sexism at work never involved a workplace. It was not a case that the clerks said she must do something inappropriate to secure a brief, nor did any instructing solicitor or potentially instructing solicitor do this. She was not approached by an older member of chambers with an indecent proposal.

What did happen was Ms Proudman sent an invitation to Alexander Carter-Silk via LinkedIn ‘to connect.’

It is also worth noting that Proudman and Carter-Silk do not share areas of legal expertise. Why she approached him I don’t know and it might have been journalistic for a journalist to actually ask her that question.

I feel absolutely obligated to pull this from their respective website profiles (as no journalist in all of England deemed it necessary to do so.). Ms Proudman is thus (and a little more):

Charlotte specialises in advice and representation of in all aspects of family law. Charlotte is a leading expert in forced marriage and has provided pro bono support at Toynbee Hall, the National Centre for Domestic Violence, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation. In addition, Charlotte researched transnational forced marriage at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Instrumental in the criminalisation of forced marriage, she argued for criminalisation in the Parliament of Sweden, on BBC Radio 4 and at universities across England. Charlotte was invited by Number 10 Downing Street’s Policy Unit and the Forced Marriage Unit to advise on criminalisation.

Charlotte’s areas of expertise also include, public law children: care proceedings and adoption; private law children: contact and residence disputes’; accommodation and assistance under the Children Act 1989; international family law: child abduction, international adoption and trafficking; domestic violence injunctions; cohabitation, civil partnerships, divorce, nullity, freezing orders, TLAT Act 1996 and transfer of tenancy and; inheritance disputes.

Carter-Silk is thus:

Alexander Carter-Silk has 25 years of experience advising on contentious and non-contentious intellectual property (IP) and technology matters and has particular strengths in the licensing, sponsorship and franchising of IP rights, and the protection of copyright, design rights and trademarks. He advises on advertising and marketing regulation and reputation management, including privacy and defamation.

Alex’s clients include brand owners, suppliers and insurers from a diverse range of industries including technology, marketing and the media. He is renowned as a litigation heavyweight in the resolution of complex high value disputes, many of which have an international aspect. He advises on technology intellectual property and cyber-risk including drafting insurance wording and advising on the insurance implications of technology and/or IP rich transaction and projects. Alex has particular experience in the recovery of failing technology projects.

I am sorry but when I was at the criminal bar I did not think linking up with a solicitor who is Head of European Intellectual Property law at a City law firm was going to get me any work (unless maybe he committed fraud, or glassed a barman after a stressful day drafting an insurance contract). I don’t think he is going to send anything of use to a family lawyer either – even one with international expertise in forced marriage.

Proudman wants to fight female genital mutilation (and more power to her). Carter-Silk advises on ‘technology intellectual property and cyber-risk including drafting insurance wording and advising on the insurance implications of technology and/or IP rich transaction and projects’. Apart from the fact that this sounds dull as ditchwater, the point is it is a million miles away from the Family Bar.

For God’s sake people – do some digging!

Carter-Silk replied to her approach, commenting on her photograph, which she did not appreciate. But his reply did not happen ‘in the workplace’, neither in the courtroom, robing room, the clerks’ room, a solicitor’s office or chambers. It happened over the internet – which is not the same as real life.

In fact, according to The Times interview, Proudman “was at her desk, at King’s College, Cambridge, working on her PhD thesis on female genital mutilation and gender-based violence, when she noticed the LinkedIn message from Carter-Silk.”

He was a partner at a major London firm. “And the solicitor-barrister dynamic is always imbued with power relations because it’s the solicitor who gives the barrister work, so you are not on an equal footing. This is somebody who can make or break your career.”

Sure – normally this is the case, but Carter-Silk cannot make or break Proudman’s career as they are in completely different practice areas.

Moving on, did Ms Proudman’s supervising professor make an indecent proposal, or anyone from academia make such an approach? No. A solicitor she contacted via the internet replied. That was it.

There are other open doors journalists have failed to push on this story. Proudman complains that women are often forced into family and criminal work – yet she herself sought a criminal pupillage and eventually secured one at a family set.

She also alleges that senior members of the Bar offered pupillages for sex. “Friends have told me that they know people who have engaged in transactional sex for pupillages, with men.” This is an extremely serious allegation to make entirely without foundation and brings the Bar into disrepute.

Also, it has to be said, “friends told me they know of people who…” Let’s just say she missed her evidence class on hearsay.

Can I just say that it is virtually impossible for a pupillage to be offered or indeed secured this way. Pupillage is very competitive and works through a system a bit like UCAS or chambers themselves.

For this to happen, the member offering would have to make sure the CV of the applicant made it through about 500 hundred CVs examined by at least 2 or 3 members of chambers. Then the applicant must make it through interview with more than a one person and then a final set of interviews with at least 2 or 3 other members of chambers (taking an educated guess). How likely do we think it is that a barrister could fix this?

Maybe there is sexism at the bar. If someone of 5 – 10 years standing wants to tell me, I am all ears. But I doubt there is.

The next time the MSM wants to run a story of sexism at the workplace, there should be some actual sexism at an actual workplace. Until then – do some fact checking!

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