What are digital comparison tools (DCTs)?

DCTs such as TripAdvisor or MoneySuperMarket allow consumers to search for providers based on key criteria and allow providers to promote their services. DCTs are not new to the Bar – the Bar Council’s Direct Access Portal is a long-standing DCT, for example.

Surely choosing a barrister isn’t the same as choosing a hotel on TripAdvisor?

Many DCTs allow consumers to search for providers by location, price, service offered, availability and reviews – as do some law-focused DCTs. The process of barrister selection by consumers* using DCTs is often, therefore, surprisingly similar to the way they choose between other service providers. However, we appreciate that clients of barristers cannot judge the quality of service offered in the same way they can judge the quality of a hotel room.

What does the BSB want barristers to do?

We are asking barristers, referral Bar and direct access alike, to sign up to one (or more) of our pilot DCTs, and share with us their experiences of using them. Your insights will contribute to the evaluation of our pilot.

I’m interested in taking part but nervous about responding to reviews

It’s worth noting that not all DCTs offer client reviews – the Direct Access Portal is a good example of a DCT that doesn’t. Some DCTs focus on star ratings, or currently include reviews towards the end of the barrister selection process.

When responding to reviews, you must be aware of the obligations placed on you by the BSB Handbook. Responding to a review is your opportunity to clarify, correct and learn more about how your clients perceive the service you deliver. We suggest you politely acknowledge and thank the client for their feedback. And, if the feedback is critical, we suggest you set out how you will address the issue or learn from the feedback. Adopting this approach allows you to reassure existing and future clients that you value their views, and take their experiences seriously.

What about client confidentiality?

You are permitted to respond to an online review so long as you do not disclosure confidential or privileged information.

If a client review itself includes confidential or privileged information, any public response you provide should not reveal any information beyond that which the client has already revealed. If you are unsure about what to say in response, you may wish to simply acknowledge the review and contact the client privately about their feedback.

What about fake or defamatory reviews?

If you think that an online review about you or your practice is not from a genuine current or former client, you could contact the relevant DCT and follow their complaints procedures.

If you believe an online review is defamatory you can, of course, pursue legal action. However, you might also consider whether you can achieve a better outcome with a different approach. Potential clients may be deterred from instructing you if they feel you have been heavy-handed with a dissatisfied client. It may be more beneficial to encourage other clients to leave reviews on the same website, to give potential clients a more balanced picture.

Where is this pilot leading?

At this stage, we have an open mind. Once we’ve gathered relevant evidence, and evaluated our findings, we will decide on our next steps.

Insights gathered from the barristers and chambers who take part in our pilot will directly influence our final conclusions – so why not get involved? 

*Please see our independent research into clients’ expectations when instructing barristers.

To learn more about the BSB’s DCT pilot, see the BSB website here or email us at dctpilot@barstandardsboard.org.uk.