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Leads to instructions: converting contacts into clients - Five Simple Steps to Success


It is now a fundamental requirement for barristers to be able to develop new business opportunities through ‘networking’. Contacts need to be developed into new clients and existing clients need to be encouraged to make greater use of the legal skills available to them.


It is now a fundamental requirement for barristers to be able to develop new business opportunities through ‘networking’. Contacts need to be developed into new clients and existing clients need to be encouraged to make greater use of the legal skills available to them. What may seem like shameless self-promotion to the more traditional member of the bar comes naturally to the newer breed of barrister, who has recognised that clients have increased expectations and that their requirements have changed. Barristers who fail to recognise this trend risk losing out.

There are two key principles required to network successfully and without embarrassment. The first principle is that client development is about ‘listening’ not ‘talking’. The second principle is that selling is ‘helping’ not ‘imposing’.

Follow these Five Simple Steps (taking into account the Bar’s Code of Conduct) to increase the return on the investment of time and effort you put into nurturing current clients and developing new contacts, in order to increase your instructions and to ensure that all the people you meet become your enthusiastic ambassadors and sources of referrals.

Step 1 – Create and seize opportunities
This is the most daunting step, but qualms can be overcome by anticipation, planning and thought. Set your objectives. Before you start, answer the questions: how you would like to expand your practice? What level and type of work are you seeking? Who among the clients that already instruct you would you like more work from? Who has not instructed you recently and why? Which new clients would you like? Where are good sources of referrals?

Leads broadly comprise those you create and the opportunistic. It is easier and more cost effective to win further instructions from an existing client than new instructions from a new client. Therefore, create opportunities to talk and listen to your client during and at the end of cases and matters, when he might mention other cases or issues which he or his colleagues are concerned about. You can also create leads, for example, by attending the events and conferences run by and for your clients. Make yourself stay for the breaks, drinks and dinners and talk to those from whom you would like more work.

Opportunistic leads are everywhere and any conversation could turn into something. Don’t try to talk at somebody, believing it is ‘selling’ – it is just boring and can appear to be arrogant and condescending. Be interested in them and interesting to them. It would be a mistake to try to ‘sell’ anything initially: it is about creating a rapport and exchanging ideas. Even sitting next to somebody on an aeroplane and just chatting has been known to generate major instructions.

All opportunities are developed by asking open questions (what, when, where, who, how, how much, and why) and listening actively to the answers. We have two ears and one mouth, and that is the proportion of listening to talking that you should do. Listen and determine where your help could be useful and appreciated. Don’t become too intense at a party or event, but look for the opportunity to say, “Why don’t I give you a call about that …and perhaps we can meet up and discuss it further?”

Step 2 – Telephone
You could ask your Chief/Senior Clerk or Practice Manager to follow up this opportunity. However, by making the call yourself, you are demonstrating your sincere wish to develop the relationship. Picking up the telephone can be difficult. Fear of rejection is high. You can overcome this by remembering that the person you are telephoning has given you
permission to get in touch. Before picking up the telephone: smile; take three deep breaths and remember that they will be looking forward to your call!

There are five stages to ensure a successful call. Make the introduction clear: say your name and that of your chambers slowly and clearly. Ask whether now is a convenient time for them to talk to you. Make it easy for the person to remember you by referring back to what you had previously talked about. The purpose of your call is to arrange a meeting – nothing more. Make an arrangement to meet for lunch, drinks or coffee, or even a more formal meeting, if that is what the solicitor has indicated might be useful to him. Confirm all the details on the telephone and then by email.

Step 3 – Research for the Meeting
Research the individuals you are meeting, including how satisfied they are with any work you or your chambers may have done for them before; their expertise; experience; likes, dislikes; and their views on using counsel. Research their firm, including its main practice areas, its competitors; what it prides itself on; references in Chambers and Legal 500 and recent profile. If you have discussed the problems of the lay client, research that organisation, including its culture, vision, objectives and try to find out the context of the problem. Much of this information can be obtained from websites, reports and accounts and a media search.

Research and know your own chambers. For what is your set renowned? Who are the stars? What are the highlights of the previous six months? What cases and judgements have they been involved in? What does your website say about the set? What has the press reported over the previous six months? This will enable you to promote the set and cross-sell other barristers.

Research yourself! What have you done which will be of relevance to this potential client? What are the key elements of the problem that you could help with, why and how? What key messages do you want to convey to this potential client? It will vary from client to client: some may want their ideas confirmed, while others may want ‘handholding’ or you to enhance their credibility with their own client.

Step 4 – Plan the meeting

Prepare meticulously. Should you take another barrister? Where should you meet? What would be interesting conversation topics? How can you make the conversation flow easily? What are your objectives for the meeting? Think about what the client will be looking for, and what their objectives might be. Bear in mind that all the time the client will be asking of you “Will this barrister make me look good in front of my client?” “Will they be an enthusiastic champion of our cause?” “How will this person fit in with the rest of the legal team?”


Be prepared for anything. For example “popping in for a casual chat” may actually become an informal beauty parade. Prepare open questions based on your research and any previous contact you might have had with the firm or their client. Practise confident and non-defensive answers to difficult questions you might be asked. Think of all possible outcomes of the meeting and be prepared for these with different options that you can offer on the way forward. Discuss these with the client and then agree which is the best way in which to take the next step. It may take several encounters and even several years, before you are instructed, but keep nurturing the relationship in a structured way.

Step 5 – Follow-up and strengthen the relationship
Create a realistic plan to keep in regular contact with the client to show your genuine interest, without such contact being “so frequent or obtrusive as to cause annoyance to those to whom is directed,” (Code of Conduct 710.2 f ). The plan should be detailed for six months and possibly for up to two years and be constantly revised and up-dated. It could involve others in your set and a range of different people in the firm or the lay client’s organisation.

The plan may include, for example: brief newsletters up-dating clients on what you and your set, particularly the younger barristers, can offer. If you have written an academic article about the likely impact of a case in which you have been involved, you could send this to the client, highlighting paragraphs which might be of particular interest. “Well presented seminars are an opportunity to display the expertise of the counsel in a manner than is helpful to solicitors and others” (Practice Management for the Bar - 3.5.2). Use these opportunities to refresh relationships with clients and not to talk to other members of chambers! Offers to contribute to in-house training in law firms are often welcome. Thoughtful invitations to appropriate social and cultural events maybe appreciated.

When the time comes for a solicitor to instruct you, how do you spot the signs that he is interested in doing so? Some of the indicators might be questions about your other cases and commitments at the moment; possible conflicts of interest; the amount of work involved and working with other members of his legal team. Find out how the client would like to proceed and welcome the new instructions with a quick call to say that you have received the papers safely and how pleased you are to be working together (again).

Pippa Blakemore, BSc, PGCE, Partner in The PEP Partnership LLP, specialises in the provision of marketing and business development skills to barristers and solicitors. She works with lawyers on every aspect of winning and keeping clients including workshops on presentation skills, working the room and effective client care. Pippa can be contacted on her direct line on 0118 9310688 or email: More information about Pippa and the work she does is on



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