Technology is now a prominent feature within the legal sector, whether you follow #LawTech or #LegalTech, if you are a keen technologist or technophobe; the subject cannot be ignored by barristers or their clerks; we all need to be alert to the opportunities that technology brings to us and the tools we can use to re-imagine but not replace age-old traditional methods of working.
I am a firm believer in smarter working practices which is why I founded Quartz Barristers Chambers in 2016 based on an agile business model. I believe that whilst Quartz, like all chambers, has its own strategic growth plan based upon its people and values it can remain independent whilst utilising the tools and services of an external network platform system.
My interest in technology goes beyond my own chambers, I founded Barrister Link, a network platform where consumers and solicitors can find, book, pay and collaborate with a barrister and clerk in one secure place. I believe that one technology platform can support the growth of all chambers, their barristers and clerks. A fitting quote from The Law Tech UK 2021 report – Shaping the Future of Law signifies how technology should be viewed amongst us all within the legal sector:
“Technology in law has advanced beyond being a back-office efficiency tool. It is an enabler of fundamental change in the frontline delivery of legal and court services, and a mechanism for doing things differently, setting new standards, and importantly, putting user outcomes front and centre.”
Barristers in private practice are fiercely independent, their character traits are suited towards being a barrister at the independent Bar. Clerks are loyal, proud champions of their chambers brand and follow their own strategy based upon their individual chamber’s capabilities and resources. We belong to a profession that has a collegiate culture that is unique compared to other sectors in the way we support our competitors. Clerks are friends with other clerks and barristers who do battle in court, invariably support one another outside of court.
As part of my master’s degree in business administration and to coincide with the launch of Barrister Link in 2023, I produced a report to answer the question – How would barristers adapt to accepting work via a platform system? I made some insightful findings from both qualitative and quantitative analysis of three constructs: Adaptability, Networks and Convenience. A survey and interviews were conducted with barristers of different seniority and expertise throughout the UK.
Consumers already have a need for accessing legal professionals as stated in The Legal Services Board report – The State of Legal Services 2020. There are 3.6 million consumers that have an unmet legal need and £40 billion each year is wasted by SME’s who do not seek professional advice in legal disputes because they do not know where to look or fear engaging legal professionals
It is fair to say that a high number of barristers are not proactive in using technology to deliver their services to consumers or solicitors. Therefore, there is an argument to suggest a platform strategy solution is required; on one side there are many consumers who have a legal need and on the other side many barristers who can provide legal advice or representation to service that need. However, there are challenges to overcome to solve the “Chicken and Egg” dilemma of getting both sides to adapt to using a technology platform.
COVID 19 forced the transformation of how barristers used technology to appear in court via video link. Barristers and their clerks quickly realised they had to adapt to survive. This created a seismic shift in how they view technology to aid their practice. The results of my report found 84% of barristers surveyed agreed that they use technology more now than before the pandemic and 90% of those barristers interviewed show a positive attitude towards technology and see the opportunity of future adoption within their practice, especially if a platform can create a surplus of new work opportunities. However, academic research shows that barristers cannot just onboard a platform and expect consumers will appear from nowhere; they must be transparent in what service they offer and value they give before the consumer will make a purchase.
80% of barristers interviewed understood that joining a network creates an opportunity to reach a larger client base. By making barristers available to consumers in a frictionless way via a platform network, solves a consumer need when seeking legal advice and maximises the opportunities for barristers to provide advice and court representation. The research indicated that 72% of barristers see a significant benefit in collaborating with other professionals on a platform; solicitors and accountants were highlighted as a valuable addition along with medical and insurance professionals.
There is an overwhelming desire amongst barristers for automation and streamlining mundane administrative tasks, 93% agreed that technology can save time by sorting papers and instructions,
83% said they spent 5-7 hours on average per day on a mobile device and they saw technology as a tool to aid their ability to provide a service to the client, they felt that a platform application should be intuitive and automate menial administration tasks to free up their time, supporting their wellbeing and that of their clerks.
In conclusion I found, for the consumer to on board to a network platform, there must first be an offering of barristers who on board before the consumer or at the same time. In a legal dispute the consumer will need a legal professional, if choice of barrister and cost were easily available, they would on board. Barristers are much more likely to join a platform network if the three constructs of adaptability, networks and convenience are satisfied. Understandably, they want assurance that the platform is secure, and the integrity of all members are legitimate. They see the value in collaborating with other professionals within a network and most of all they want the convenience of a platform when serving their clients to deliver justice.
Barrister Link has been developed considering the three constructs of adaptability, networks and convenience. It is an independent platform for individual chambers and barristers to utilise technology as a tool to aid clerks and their barristers to provide smarter working practices to consumers and solicitors to make the legal process journey a frictionless one.