There are numerous reasons why barristers should have clients delivered to them rather than trying to sell and market to clients themselves. In fact, the reasons are legion.
In 2004, when the English legal system was changed to enable clients direct access to barristers, it started a shift in the way many barristers found and received work.
Whilst a considerable number undertook training to deal directly with the public, the challenges of mastering sales and marketing techniques served as a stark reminder why many became barristers, and not business people, in the first place.
However, for the three thousand or so barristers who are now accredited to accept Public Access clients, having a skill set in sales and marketing can provide an important competitive advantage. But what proportion of these barristers actually posses such skills?
Behavioural scientists tell us that only one in five people are natural born marketers. Others may have the capability to develop their sales and marketing techniques to an acceptable level, but without a doubt, a good portion of Public Access practitioners are simply unlikely to master the art of selling.
By nature, barristers are analytical and often purposely detached – the exact opposite of the traits needed to be successful marketing and sales specialists. This skills-gap is a genuine issue for many Public Access barristers who now, in some way or another, must market and sell their services to clients.
Public Access barristers taking on sales and marketing activities might seem a natural step, however, in reality, getting bogged down in day-to-day management of tweets, grams, Facebook posts and likes, LinkedIn connections, SEO, meta-tags, media relations and press releases, email marketing and blogs, is far from what barristers were trained to do.
Perhaps it’s time for those barristers who are not natural salespeople and who don’t have the time and resources to undertake marketing activities, to simply stay focused on exercising their legal, analytical and advocacy skills, and let someone else do the sales and marketing for them.
Hiring a marketing and sales team, with the specific role of attracting new clients, might seem a viable option. Yet, when wages/fees, facilities and possible commissions are factored in, it becomes potentially very costly.
Another option is to use client ‘referral’ services, many of which have cropped up since the advent of the Public Access Scheme. However, barristers would be justified in questioning which of these ‘match-makers’ can work effectively for both the client and the barrister. For instance, what steps are taken by referral services to ensure that the client can actually afford the barrister’s fees and other legal costs? Merely telling clients what to expect in terms of costs is not the same as structuring their fees and installing solutions to ensure they can sustain the financial rigours of an extended legal process.
Of course, the ideal scenario for barristers, is to receive legally-ready clients with fully funded cases. A qualified client, with assured funds to pay their legal costs is, and always has been, the perfect match for a barrister.
When I launched Legal Cost Finance (LCF) three years’ ago, it was because there was a vital piece of the legal jigsaw missing. It was because of the extraordinary number of people who were unable to pursue a legal matter due to the high costs involved and the lack of financial resources at their disposal.
LCF has since procured financial solutions for hundreds of clients, aiding in their quest for access justice through a Public Access barrister. In turn, this enabled streams of clients to flow to the brilliant minds of barrister who were genuinely suited to each case – without having to worry about their capabilities to ‘convert’ client leads and to secure instructions
My view of the referral process is one where the sales process lies within the duties of the referrer. After all, that’s exactly the way it works when solicitors brief barristers – clients are both legally and financially qualified, and solicitors are almost fully responsible for the process of promoting and securing barristers’ services.
As part of LCF’s marketing approach, clients are offered payment plans – finance to cover their legal costs, which can be paid by affordable instalments for those who need it or for the savvy clients who simply prefer to spread their costs over time. As a result, the uncertainty over fee payments and aged debt is no longer an issue for barristers who join ‘Catalist’ – LCF’s panel of legal practitioners.
While LCF offers payment plan options to all types of clients (individual and corporate) Catalist supports these clients throughout their legal journey. Once fully vetted, clients are linked to a Catalist-member with the assurance that the interests of the client and the interests of justice are being properly served. Where appropriate, this results in client referrals to a Public Access barrister.
LCF has already realised its own marketing ambitions of becoming a leader in this unique field, but in doing so it has introduced a family of resources that are aimed at ensuring relations between clients and barristers are supported well beyond the initial instruction. For example, LCF is aligned with paralegal support services such as P[X]Paralegal who provide ‘Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO)’ – a vital resource for barristers wanting to maintain successful client relations.
An LPO provider takes care of the ‘mechanical’ elements involved in a legal case through expert paralegal support. For both self-employed and Public Access barristers, it is crucial to have a reliable team of paralegals to turn to. A fully geared LPO provider can handle virtually everything that a barrister may need, from client- relations management (supporting their entire stable of clients while enabling barristers to focus on individual cases) through to a full range of document management processes such as filing, sorting, scanning, digitising and bundling.
The combination of properly qualified referrals and LPO support makes perfect commercial sense for any legal practice. It simply enables lawyers to time-manage
more efficiently – taking on workloads that become daunting and unrealistic – enabling Public Access barristers in particular to grow their practices with maximum effectiveness.
Ultimately, however, it is the client who benefits, as the affordability and convenience of payment plans combined with the cost efficiency offered through LPO-friendly barristers, access to justice becomes extremely cost-effective. Overall, this combination makes the seemingly impossible, possible – more profit for the barrister, whilst producing clients who are not only satisfied with the service and quality of their barrister, but can actually pay for their legal services in an affordable and convenient manner.
I believe that the combination of legally-ready and fully funded client referrals, working with barristers whose practices function efficiently with the right levels of paralegal support, represents the shape that Public Access practices will take on in the imminent future.
Barristers should not have to worry about marketing and fishing for clients. They should merely ensure that they have the necessary client management, case management and paralegal support in place to satisfy clients’ expectations. Having done so, they can confidently rely on a steady flow of fully qualified and funded clients from the legal membership networks such as Catalist.
Therefore, for Public Access barristers daunted by the challenges of building their practice, it’s time to start breathing easy. LCF is breaking the mould of what Public Access practice is all about, and provides a range of solutions that celebrate what barristers were trained to do, rather than placing unrealistic expectations on them.
Success in building a Public Access practice shouldn’t entirely be up to the barrister. Rather, it should largely lie with referrals services that support Public Access. These services must recognise and deliver the sales, marketing and paralegal support that a substantial number of barristers require in order to do their job effectively.
The only business skill a barrister needs to have is the ability to choose the right legal
referral support service – one that enables them to enjoy their work, and fosters continued practice development through quality cases and guaranteed fees.
In all, this merely requires the shifting of responsibilities that traditionally rested with solicitors onto referrals service – a familiar arrangement that has a proven track record for long lasting success.
By Dr Yuri Rapoport, founder of Legal Cost Finance