In issue 58 of ‘thebarrister’ I looked at how results from the client research campaigns we have undertaken for a variety of barristers’ Chambers were underpinned by a single concept, irrespective of each Chambers’ specialism or location. That concept was service. Instructing solicitors want more from you in terms of personal service; they want to know you, have access to you and know they will always receive a direct and timely response from you.
I am glad to say that since then even though we have continued to interview solicitors on behalf of a growing number of Chambers, the core results have not altered as the sample size has grown. A solicitor’s desire to receive a more personal service from their barrister has not diminished in the slightest. Nor has the fact that service (in some form) is given as a critical success factor in every interview.
The only problem is there are still too many barristers content to use “my clerks will take care of it” + “doing a good job is all the marketing I need” as their business development model. In today’s market if you want to remain commercially successful you must accept this model needs a third dimension.
Yes, solicitors still need your clerks to make the process of instructing you as efficient as possible.
Yes, your technical skills are still what will provide the highest level of advocacy and the highest likelihood of reaching the best possible outcome for your clients.
However solicitors are repeatedly and unanimously telling us they also demand a stronger working relationship and a higher level of care. And remember, many Chambers are picking up and acting on this feedback so if you remain ambivalent, over time you may lose valued clients to your competitors.
But what does better service actually mean? More importantly what will you have to do to deliver better service? One of the key things we learned very early on is that many barristers don’t feel comfortable with traditional business development activities like networking, lunching or meeting in more social settings. That said, some are and are very good at it but many more find asking for – let alone hosting – this type of meeting uncomfortable.
However, there is some good news. There are other equally effective activities you can get involved in that may be more comfortable for you and beet suit you personality.
When we look at establishing any sort of new marketing or business development initiative for a Chambers or deliver soft skills training for barristers we are careful to highlight right from the start that successful marketing requires the input of 4 very different individuals:
I’d like to look at what these roles entail and the part they can play in making sure you not only deliver the level of your instructing solicitors demand but also how you can use them to boost the profile and visibility of your set so you generate more new relationships and more new briefs.
Networking is the most public face of marketing but, for some reason, when people talk about networking they are thinking about formal ‘working the room’ type events. While these events offer two huge benefits – the opportunity to meet a large number of people in a short space of time and the security everyone is there for the same purpose – it is something of an understatement to say they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.
This is why I always suggest that you should look at networking not as a type of event but as the process of building your own personal network. As barristers there are a number of ways you can do this.
You can go down the traditional event route by attending general or more specialist legal events or more general business events (something that may pay dividends for barristers with commercial practices as Direct Access begins to take root). If you do feel comfortable with this format you need to be comfortable making the small talk that will lead to you leaving with a few new business cards. You also need to have the discipline to follow up and continue the conversation over coffee or a glass of wine. If you don’t follow up, there’s no point in spending your valuable time going.
However you don’t have to rely on working the room, there are more personal networking activities you can get involved in.
Meeting solicitors 1on1 for coffee, for lunch or for drinks is the best way to build a genuine personal relationship and show you are willing to add value over and above the work you do on the briefs these solicitors give you.
Once you have developed that type of closer working relationship with solicitors they will feel more comfortable to contact you by email or by phone to ask you the odd question here and there (this is probably the most referenced point of service mentioned during interviews). If they find you accessible and responsive, the evidence we have accrued suggests they will increase the volume of work they send your way and create more opportunities for you and your fellow members to meet more of their team.
If you aren’t comfortable initiating these meetings, get involved with Chambers’ events. The majority of Chambers have a varied calendar of events throughout the year that includes receptions, quiz nights, curry evenings, sporting events and – of course- CPD seminars. The only trouble is one of the most consistent gripes we hear from clerks is that when their members attend these events, they tend to stick together. If this is going to be your preferred networking activity, you will need to get involved in conversations with your guests and, again, be prepared to follow up.
If you do attend, get involved in those conversations and follow up you will immediately position yourself as someone willing to take a call or provide an answer when your prospective clients are stumped. Again this will start to create a genuinely collaborative working relationship and increase the volume of work and introductions your clients generate.
While traditional networking provides an opportunity to speak to a handful of people at an event, speaking gives you the opportunity to speak to everyone.
Better still everything you say to your audience will underline your credibility. Your position on the speaking roster will mark you out as someone they will want to talk to during the break and, more importantly, as the advocate they should turn to when the right opportunity arises.
However if you are going to genuinely engage your audience, you have to be good. This requires a very particular set of skills and these skills are probably the rarest of the four. I liken good speakers to good goalkeepers, they are few and far between but when you find a good one, they’re more than worth their weight in gold.
Good speakers are also pivotal to providing good service.
Client seminars and CPD training workshops should already be central to your client development activities. They are the perfect reason to get in touch, the perfect vehicle through which to underline your specialities and technical ability and the perfect way to win hearts and minds (it’s incredible the positive PR the award of CPD points creates). But again, if you’re going to gain the maximum value you need to engage with and hold the attention of your audience which brings us back to the fact you have to be good.
The other advantage of sending your more natural (and, dare I say, entertaining) speakers is you’ll be invited back, often to the detriment of your less engaging competitors.
Written content has never been as important as it is today. From boosting your positon in the search engines to underlining your thought leadership credentials (i.e. convincing those who don’t know you that you’re the expert they’re looking for), continually producing written content is essential.
The by-product of establishing yourself as a writer worth reading is that you will have a consistent and credible reason to get back in touch with your universe of instructing solicitors. Sending someone a link to a relevant blog Chambers has produced or a PDF of an article you’ve had published in a trade title is an easy, low risk touchpoint to implement and a great way to remind people just how good you are.
From the perspective of service written content is the perfect medium through which to add value to a relationship remotely.
Whether you are writing articles, opinion pieces, blogs, legal updates to simple FAQ sheets, make sure you do two things:
- Keep them practical and accessible: Content is written to share information and provide your clients with a greater understanding of a specific topic; they are not an opportunity to indulge in intellectual gymnastics. As such they need to be clear, straightforward and written in plain English
- Use them: Make sure you actually send them to your clients and make sure they know it’s you that’s sending it to them (as well as why you’re sending it to them)
This is the task that is all too often forgotten but it’s arguably the most vital. It’s also the most suited to a more introverted barrister who doesn’t feel at all comfortable getting out and about or putting their name to written content.
As the name suggests this group’s responsibility is desk research; finding out where the networkers should be networking, where the writer’s should be writing (and what they should be writing about) and where the speakers should be speaking (and what they should be speaking about).
All of the outlets they uncover will play a massive part in improving your Chambers’ profile and market visibility which will pay dividends when it comes to generating new interest and, hopefully, new briefs.
With regards to contributing to improving your service levels, they provide an invaluable support role. The better their work, the stronger and more relevant your client workshops and other CPD material will be, the more practical and useful your content will become and the more consistent your social media and ‘saw this and thought of you’ activities. All of this will help you stay at the front of your client’s minds and, by extension, more likely to be their first port of call when the need arises.