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The Oxygen of Publicity

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As a practising barrister, I have never eschewed the professional limelight, as good publicity is the oxygen of life.  In my glittering career spanning many years, I have had my fair share of media attention, but with very mixed reviews.  The problem as I see it is that the media have their own agenda, which doesn’t always chime with my own expectations.  They want an angle, something sensational, and something to grab and hold the eye of the beholder.  I’m not suggesting a deliberate distortion, more a massaging of the facts to make for ‘good press.’

Upon mature reflection, I suspect the recipient of a full page “exposé” in the Sunday Times may well be questioning the wisdom of that particular exercise in self promotion, as this was the main thrust of the article.  I skim read it, so sadly I’ve already forgotten his name, but as I remember it, this self styled legal ‘celebrity’ was a solicitor from oop north, a sort of ‘larger than life’ character with gold jewellery and sharp suits, photographed with a large cigar stuck in his mouth, a ruse no doubt by the interviewer to stop him droning on interminably about his brilliance.

Cutting to the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the article, this solicitor was telling us, at some length, about his divorce practice, the number of high profile clients he had represented, all female, and the millions he had screwed out of their undeserving husbands.

As a divorce practitioner myself, I cringe whenever I read this complete garbage.  It’s true that in the recent past, a number of decisions mainly from the House of Lords have shifted the balance towards the wife, some might say unfairly, with the result that husbands have been obliged to hand over a disproportionate amount of their wealth to their departing wives.  Many of the old rules have changed.  Short marriages are no longer an impediment, and marital conduct is all but irrelevant.  Wealth brought to the nuptial couch may still be a factor to be taken into consideration, but the days of ‘ring fencing’ are long gone.

But these significant changes are nothing to do with cigar chomping solicitors, however much they and the readers of the Sunday Times would like us to believe it.  They are more to do with a gradual sea change in the approach adopted by the courts, which had historically favoured the husband as the bread winner and the main, sometimes sole, earner.

I like to think that the courts still strive to achieve fairness in the distribution of marital assets, although in my considerable experience, what is fair to one warring party is manifestly unfair to the other.  As they say, when love flies out the window, so does reason, and reaching an amicable settlement is often a bridge too far.  Hence the need for good advocates, cigar chomping or not.

There may be rare occasions when the husband has had enough of the bitterness and acrimony stirred up during these protracted proceedings, throws in the towel, and allows self promoting advocates to trumpet their brilliance. But my experience tells me that in high profile divorces, I am routinely pitted against able advocates representing the interests of the other party, and case law constrains me from arguing the unarguable.

Above all, the good advocate in divorce proceedings should not be there to screw the other party, but to achieve a fair result with the minimum of distress to both.  Perhaps I’m just an old softie, in which case I’ll live with the disappointment, and no more full page profiles for me.

At least the solicitor and I share one thing in common.  We both enjoy a good cigar. However, for my part I always remove the band before lighting up.

David Osborne is a successful barrister, voice actor, author, media personality and public performer. In 1991 he hit the headlines nationwide and made legal history when he delivered his final speech to the jury entirely in verse. For this tour de force he was dubbed the Barrister Bard. For more information please visit www.david-osborne.com

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