Getting in shape

Impact is the effect felt if a risk actually materialises into an event. An example might be that the risk of losing a key practitioner who is leading the way in developing a new practice area for chambers. There may be a number of reasons for their departure such as moving to another set or serious illness. The cause isn’t the issue; the impact of their loss, is.

Likelihood is the chance of something happening. Some measure this mathematically but for the purposes of most businesses a broader assessment of probability is generally used.

In order to measure the impact and likelihood of a risk, we need to establish an appropriate methodology. In other words, a scoring mechanism (or yardstick) by which to assess and measure them. A common approach is to develop a matrix, as below.

For the purpose of this example, a simple 4 x 4 ratings table is shown. By multiplying impact score by likelihood score, you achieve an overall risk score, from which you decide the priority and degree of response. The higher the score, the higher the perceived risk.

Impact ratings could be categorised as follows:

1 = Low/insignificant/minimal – this may equate to an inconvenience but no significant impact to chambers/clients (for example minor short term disruption in clerks room).

2 = Medium/moderate/unsustainable – this may equate to experiencing difficulties resulting in significant time and/or resources to manage (for example non trivial financial problems).

3 = High/significant/major – this may equate to high visibility, significant and/or sustained issues for chambers (for example serious injury to clerk/staff, serious complaint resulting in reputation damage to chambers).

4 = Severe/catastrophic – this may equate to an issue so severe the viability of chambers may be threatened (for example sustained unacceptable behaviour of individuals resulting in removal from chambers (staff or barristers).

Likelihood ratings could be categorised as follows:

1 = Low/unlikely – This is not expected to occur. Almost inconceivable.

2 = Medium/possible –This is conceivable but more likely to not happen than to happen.

3 = High/likely/probably – This is more likely to happen than not.

4 = Almost certain/inevitable – High percentage (say 80%) probability of happening.

As part of its Supervision Strategy, the BSB makes frequent reference to the Code of Conduct and the recently issued BSB Handbook. It also mentions specifically section C5 of the Conduct Rules. We therefore recommend chambers remind themselves of this content. (From page 56 of the Handbook.)

Identifying risks

As part of its information support, the BSB has identified five principal areas of risk which it expects chambers to be competently managing. It has also provided some examples under each risk area (see:

However, the BSB has also indicated that other risk areas may be included in their audit and it is on this basis that you should approach your risk assessment programme. Below is an expanded list of risks which take into account a broader approach to running chambers and should prove useful to those of you coming to this subject for the first time.

1. Control mechanisms within Chambers

I. Lack of/poorly managed committee structure/s.

II. Lack of reporting and analysis of chambers information including financials, client feedback and Health & Safety reviews.

III. Poor control over financial management including fees, rent, bank payments, client monies.

IV. No internal review of current working practices and/or opportunity for staff/clerks feedback.

V. Culture within chambers does not encourage ownership and responsibility by all individuals (members and staff).

VI. Poor/disorganised client management practices leading to confusion and potential conflict.

VII. Poor record keeping (impacting billing, diary/fee management and critical renewal dates).

2. Outward Looking Chambers

I. Poor planning and strategic approach to developing a progressing and adaptive business.

II. Poor planning to anticipate and meet the needs of chambers (pupil and staff recruitment).

III. Lack of appreciation for the changing marketplace in which chambers operate.

IV. Failure to maximise opportunities to liaise with clients and understand their needs and expectations of chambers service/s and to manage complaints effectively and promptly.

V. Lack of vision for business development via seminars and other events.

VI. Lack of appreciation of how issues may negatively impact chambers’ reputation (and how this may manifest itself as a slow creep or a quick hit on chambers).

VII. Failure to operate as a commercial business.

3. Inward Looking Chambers

I. Failure to consider the needs and expectations of staff/clerks and to fulfil the responsibilities of an employer.

II. Failure to proactively encourage an open and fair culture to all individuals within chambers.

III. Failure to acknowledge and implement Health & Safety, Equal Opportunities and other fundamental requirements.

IV. Failure to recognise the need for and offer opportunities for staff development and training.

We suggest you work your way through these risks and try and score them using the matrix approach above. This will provide a clear signpost of risks and help chambers focus on those with a medium or high score. Be realistic and honest with your scoring.

If we return to our second definition of risk; “The threat or possibility that an action or event will adversely or beneficially affect ability to achieve objectives”, you can see that by considering the risks listed above, a proactive approach to addressing them will offer chambers opportunities which it might otherwise be overlooked.

By adopting a positive attitude to risk and working as a management group, chambers can take steps to identify issues and agree ways by which to minimise or eradicate the impact these risks may have on the successful running of chambers.

So, take the initiative and develop a risk assessment procedure for your chambers and you will be well placed to manage the challenges you face both in the day to day operation of chambers as well as the BSB Supervision Team.