the regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007 is the
need to improve access to justice, protect and promote the interests
of the consumer and encourage an independent, strong, diverse and
effective legal profession. The aim is clear: the Act seeks to encourage
change in the legal marketplace, but how, as barristers, will this
affect our profession? Will it radically alter the relationship
between solicitor and barrister? Will we see barristers working
in partnerships? One change that is already here is that of a more
accessible legal market for consumers through the increasingly utilised
means of Public Access. As a result, the consumer will want easy
access to information on the track record and expertise of the barrister
– this must be addressed. Are you listening at the back?
access to information
Green Paper in 1987 suggested a change in the traditional two-tier
approach that has always been adopted by the profession in this
country – i.e. a solicitor instructs a barrister on behalf
of the client. The rules subsequently changed in 2004, allowing
‘the public’ to approach and instruct barristers directly
for certain purposes. The traditional role of the solicitor as intermediary
has been altered and in many cases the consumer will be looking
to appoint a barrister directly resulting in an increasing public
appetite for on-demand interaction. Rather than relying solely on
solicitors’ advice, the technologically aware consumers of
the 21st century will seek out information on barristers, enabling
them to make educated decisions about who their advocate should
be. The role of the solicitor is likely to remain significant, aside
from continuing to refer their clients, they will continue to perform
essential tasks that barristers cannot, for example, be engaged
in, such as the general management or administration of a client’s
affairs. Nevertheless, the point remains that barristers can no
longer solely rely on solicitor-driven work as the consumer embraces
the notion of direct access. Whilst maintaining the traditional
alliance with solicitors, the Bar should properly consider the impact
of online technology on consumer buying habits.
Internet has enabled consumers to be increasingly savvy in making
choices. An incredible depth and breadth of information available
on the internet means that we all, as consumers, make informed choices
and, as a result, simply disregard products if we have no point
of reference as to their success, popularity, effectiveness etc.
It is time for the Bar to catch up with the trend that has been
set by other sectors and professions – we need only look at
insurance, travel, finance and supermarkets to see how advanced
the process of information merchandising has become.
this background, the departure in August 2007 of our Chambers’
Director seemed to me to be a cloud with a silver lining. Capable
though he was, losing him provided an obvious opportunity to re-vamp
chambers’ marketing practices and maybe bring in some external
expertise. And, while we were about it, why not have a look at our
old, tired website?
course, politely pushing for change in a chambers meeting is, I
imagine, a bit like going out for a quiet drink in the days of press
gangs. I immediately found myself chairing our Marketing Committee
and meeting a succession of web designers distinguishable only by
the varying levels of technical jargon they employed. Eventually
we resorted to the tried and tested technique of asking the only
people whose language we could understand – other barristers.
settled on a reputable firm of legal PR consultants, we commissioned
them to audit chambers, identify some “brand values”
and think how to accentuate and articulate those values, making
us as distinguishable as possible. After all, weren’t we just
another collection of jobbing barristers striving to get work? Not
quite, it seems; the audit revealed certain strengths and weaknesses
which most of us collectively recognised, while at the same time
never quite realising we had.
to weave these brand values into a website? For this, we retained
the services of a niche design company who produced two “concepts”
for us – both visually striking, both fresh, both some way
removed from what one might often see when visiting those of other
chambers (when not dazzled by one’s opponents’ terrifyingly
impressive credentials). We drew on aspects of both concepts, and
two weeks later we were shown the result. The ability of the designers
to reflect our various wishes and preferences was enlightening and
impressive; I have seldom seen a committee of barristers reduced
to such a state of reluctant, helpless unanimity.
next task was selling the result to the rest of chambers, and for
this purpose we held an open afternoon for members to come and inspect
the site (at this stage just a succession of PDFs) themselves. This
of course was for my benefit not theirs, an insurance policy against
later expressions of dissatisfaction, and as a precaution I arranged
it for a Friday afternoon when I was in Court. It went swimmingly;
the designers said that those who came along were cheerful, polite,
to the point, and obviously more interested in going out for a drink!
Utilising yet a third set of professionals
to construct the site, we harmonised the presentational side and
the technical side. The aim was to try to think really hard about
how our clients – not forgetting that this now extends to
the general public too - would want to use our website, making it
as easy as possible for users to choose barristers by call, experience
and expertise, and highlighting in a self-contained section those
who are prepared and qualified to accept Public Access work. We
also wanted accessible images, with an element of wit and latitude;
I am particularly pleased that one member’s dog basket (or
technically, I should say, that of his pet dog) will now adorn our
pupillage page, and that a bottle of champagne left incongruously
in a row of files introduces forthcoming social events.
left only the small task of collating the members’ profiles
and photographs. This threw up a number of contentious issues (in
particular “But why can’t Diocesan Law have its own
Practice Group?” and “I’m not really that fat,
am I?”) but, by a combination of cajoling, flattering, and
threatening to write them myself, they all seem to have got done.
course, the information that is available on the website about an
individual’s expertise and experience is just as important
as the message that the site communicates about the set as a whole.
But, being part of a strong brand will, however, naturally reinforce
the consumer’s feeling that they are looking at the right
person for the job.
site has recently gone live and I leave it to others to judge the
results. All I hope is that those solicitors whom our clerks say
they can hear down the phone tapping away in search of the profile
pages of those being put forward for potential briefs will be pleasantly
surprised by what they find. And the cost of all this (plus a vibrant
media promotions programme which now sees our members obtaining
media space like never before)? About half the annual salary of
our former chambers director. No disrespect to an excellent professional
like him, but I think it’s money well spent.
Don’t drop off
main message, in my opinion, is that solicitors and barristers should
embrace the change that the Legal Services Act 2007 will and is
already bringing about. Online technology provides an excellent
opportunity for the Bar to promote competition in the provision
of services and to encourage an independent, strong, diverse and
effective legal profession – let’s use it effectively.
Solicitors will continue to instruct barristers but advances in
how the consumer can obtain information about services on offer
means that the Bar must respond accordingly so that they can in
fact reap the benefits of change rather than shying away from it.
There is no denying that consumers are becoming increasingly reliant
on online technology to help them make their decisions – whether
it be in their choice of insurance provider, supermarket or indeed,
legal expert. Therefore, as service providers, we need to ensure
that the volume and quality of information about the service we
provide is in line with the requirements of the consumer so that
they can ultimately make an informed choice.
Andrew Butler, Tanfield Chambers