Alternative training strategies for barristers that really do win more work

Training in all of its guises has long been a mainstay of a chambers’ marketing plan.  It is a proven way of getting in front of both instructing solicitors and lay clients to showcase your legal specialisms.  Moreover, if the event is structured correctly, it can also provide the perfect opportunity for the presenters to carry on the conversation with their audience afterwards so that the barristers involved can start to show they are the right person to work with, not just the right lawyer.

This in itself is a major point.  When you give a talk you are not just taking your turn on the training rota or helping your main instructing firms tick the CPD box, you are positioning yourself.

When it comes to deciding who is right for a case, a solicitor’s decision is influenced by personality (or at least ‘fit’ and suitability) as much as it is by technical ability.  The solicitor has to be sure you will be the right person for their client and to do that they have to know you.

I fully expect push back here.  Surely because you are an expert in break clauses and leasehold enfranchisement or in European competition law that will be enough to win you work?  And if you did a good job last time that must be enough to put you straight to the top of the list for the next piece of work in the same area?  These are contributory, I can’t argue against that.  However we are repeatedly told by the solicitors we interview during the client research programmes we run for chambers all over England that these factors need to be complemented by their certainty that yours will be the right style for their client.

More importantly, they need to be sure your style won’t upset the apple cart once you’re in front of that client.

This is where the way you present can help.  You need to be knowledgeable of course and the detail you are presenting obviously needs to be totally correct but you also need to be personable, enthusiastic and engaging.   There are small things you can do to help yourself.  Abandoning text heavy slides for a handful of bullet points or, better still, images that’ll serve as an aide memoire will allow you to decrease the temptation to just read your slides and increase the amount of eye contact you share with your audience.

If there is a lot of detail you could hand out a case study before you start and ask people to read through it to get the background.  Or you could plough on and give those notes away afterwards so the attendees have a permanent record they can refer back to.

You can memorise the first two slides absolutely (this is a trick I still use after 20+ years of presenting) so you start strong and take confidence from that strong start to carry on in the same vein.

However my suggestion is the best way to increase the personable element, the enthusiasm and the engagement would be to look at the structure of the event as well as the way you present at it.

Many of our clients regularly bemoan falling attendances at their seminars.  I shall let you into a very poorly kept secret; this is a trend across the professional services and solicitors and accountants are saying exactly the same thing.  The reason is – in my opinion – people are too busy to take hours out of their day (or their evening for that matter) to go to seminars.  The pace of the working world has increased in line with the size of client expectations and the hours we spend connected to and available for our clients.  Something had to give and that something appears to be the time to attend seminars.

So what could replace those set piece events?  My first suggestion would be smaller in-house training sessions.  This is of course nothing new and I’m guessing you have been running these for years now for your main instructing firms.  But, even if in-house training is now a permanent pillar of your annual marketing calendar, I would challenge you that your programme could be improved.

Firstly, when was the last time you revisited the format to check it is delivering the maximum value for your clients?  While value probably sounds like one of the wishy-washy marketing words, it is actually central to the whole thing.  The more value a client derives from your talks and other added value extras, the better positioned you will be to increase the volume of work that comes from that client.

If you are going to get your in-house training offering right you need to talk to the client.  Ask them which level of fee earner needs the training?  What is the best time of day to deliver it?  Should we think about feeding your team so the 90 minutes they take out doesn’t then have to be followed by a lunch break (food is also a tried and tested way of getting more people in a room!)?   What are the topics you specifically want covered?

Most importantly ask about the format.  Few people still ascribe any real value to the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ seminar.  People want interaction so the types of sessions you could consider offering include:

  • Circulating case studies in advance then discussing thoughts at the sessions
  • Holding round table discussions whereby you would send out 3 questions in advance, ask your audience to consider them then facilitate a discussion around their thoughts on the day
  • Losing the topic and advanced planning altogether and hosting simple Q&As (anecdotally we have heard this is the format solicitors really enjoy as the output is directly relevant to their practice – it also means you don’t have to prepare any notes or any slides which is its own benefit)

And of course think about your own objective; you want to bring your members in closer to their solicitors so if you are going to progress any of these ideas try to remember to do two things:

  1. Bookend the talking bit with something social to encourage chatting before and after the event
  1. Always include a call-to-action on your final slide (or in the case of the Q&A format, your only slide) that quite clearly provides the panel’s names, contact details and an open invitation to use those contact details as and when questions arise after the event

Although it’s never a popular suggestion, technology can also play a useful part.  If you were to record the material you have designed for more traditional delivery as video clips (and this is a cost-effective exercise if you use a ‘plug and play’ online platform like GoToWebinar), you can send the links to clients to access at a time convenient for them or hold them on a password access page on your website so that you enjoy the extended SEO benefits for your efforts.

Webinars (live and pre-recorded) is a medium that has been used to great effect by patent attorneys who tend to have a more international clientbase and – like barristers – the need to be able to appeal to and communicate with both fellow professionals and lay-clients.

For this to work they would have to be delivered in bite sized chinks up to a maximum of maybe 10 minutes.  But designed smartly that should be more than enough time to at least introduce a single point of law (and remember, video content would be in addition to not instead of the in-house training explored previously).

Similarly I strongly believe podcasts offer The Bar a real marketing opportunity.  To have several experts in one area sat around a microphone sharing their opinions on a landmark case or an important legislative change would be massively valuable to your clients.  Better still, the downloadable element of podcasts means there is even greater flexibility to listen back to them at the most convenient time for your audience.

With all of that said, the one point I would like to clarify is when I talk about replacing traditional set piece events I am talking about seminars and definitely not about the large annual or biannual conferences many of your chambers may be synonymous with.

Aside from the “why?” that will almost definitely arise if this type of cornerstone event was to disappear, these are a great opportunity to bring as many of your clients and targets together in one place and not only promote your skills but also indulge in a little networking.

What I would suggest however is adopting some of the principles I’ve put forward for the smaller seminar-based events.

Sitting in the same room all day listening to a procession of speakers is tough (however good the presenters are and however interesting the subject matter).  Remember the objective at these events is the same as at the smaller ones.  You want the opportunity to demonstrate your personality and enthusiasm and engage your audience.

Try and integrate smaller group exercises and break out tables hosted by different members so that more of your barristers can get closer to the audience and have an opportunity to discuss things in detail with them rather than just lecture at them.

And the benefit of this approach doesn’t end when the groups go back to their seats; if you are running to a few glasses of wine afterwards, those in the groups will be much more likely to seek out their chairperson to continue the conversation which gives those involved even more opportunity to be personable, enthusiastic and engaging.

Douglas McPherson,

DirectorSize 10½ Boots

Author of The Visible Lawyer and Package, Position, Profit

t: 077865 40191

w: www.tenandahalf.c

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