The Bar and its clients do not always view the profession through the same lens. The widely held image is well known; wigs, gowns, pink tape, grand and imposing architecture, and a reliance on precedent. But does it say heritage, tradition and knowledge or project an out-of-touch, remote Elite? More importantly, does it reflect the reality?
The Bar is not a cosy group and many of its traditions have been freely shed as the Bar keeps pace with the modern world. It has only continued to expand and diversify through transparent and open recruitment. Most, if not all, barristers know this. Clients may not. Many still take their cue from Rumpole, Judge John Deed or, more recently, Silk. But they arrive at chambers with a certain apprehension.
They are entitled to expect the type of contemporary environment that is commonplace in the professional services sector. Instead, they may find their way to an entrance or waiting area which is not clearly marked out, or worse, find themselves knocking at the door to the clerks’ room to make their presence known. It is not the warmest welcome.
How might you feel as that client or potential client? Think of public access. It might be that client’s first experience of dealing with the Bar. The Bar’s quality might be high, the price might be competitive, but client experience matters. If the service seems remote and inaccessible, will that client rush back?
Of course, some chambers have a greater budget than others. But there is no reason why any client should not walk into well appointed premises, with a striking and prominently placed logo on the front door, to be met by a friendly and attentive receptionist. They should expect a stack of chambers’ newsletters and publications (as well as the ubiquitous copy of the Times and, naturally, Counsel) to thumb through whilst waiting – assuming they should have to wait at all. Websites can and should be clean, crisp and contemporary. Chief Executives and marketing or business development professionals are now not rare. The common strand is a simple one; chambers being run as a modern business.
From the moment that a potential client first engages with chambers, via a telephone call, via its website, through a meeting or through word of mouth, they will start to form opinions about the quality of service it is capable of providing, before they set foot in a barrister’s room. The self-employed Bar might see itself as wholly independent and individualistic, but the appeal and brand of the chambers it practises from matters.
The traditional referral model may not endure forever. Direct access is increasing and that will require direct marketing to consumers. New business models are firmly on the agenda and there is a greater push to win work from in-house legal teams at large corporations or local authorities. There is also a significant international element to the Bar’s work. It is developing into a global profession. In this brave new world, in order to communicate the Bar’s high quality, competitively priced, modern, directly accessible, flexible and highly mobile services, it has to embrace modern marketing methods.
Marketing is not just a new website, logos, brochures, drinks receptions and seminars. It is also a mentality and a commitment, adopted by chambers as a whole, to offer its services in a consistently approachable and consumer-focused manner. It is a promise to everyone that comes into contact with chambers of what they can, and should, expect. In a world in which complaints must now start in chambers and barristers must serve written notice on the lay client of their right to complain, barristers are no longer isolated practitioners. It is not mutually exclusive to be self-employed and operate as part of a joined-up business.
It means raising awareness of barristers’ services through public relations or advertising, utilising specialist business development professionals and ensuring that they always meet clients’ diverse and evolving demands. It is about asking clients what they want, not telling them.
Because the Bar has always operated in a particular way is not a reason for resting on its laurels now. The real impact of the Legal Services Act 2007 and of recent rule changes is not yet fully clear. This is not the place to argue for or against alternative business structures, ProcureCos, direct contracting (at the publicly and privately funded Bar) or entity regulation. What matters is that there is everything to play for. Chambers need seriously to debate their merits, and to analyse carefully what method of work is best for them and for their client base. The investment that consumer brands, financial institutions and law firms make in marketing their service is enormous. Whatever view one takes about the appropriate proportion of turnover to spend on marketing, there is no doubt that by any informed standards, the expenditure by the Bar falls well short.
Whatever the source of a barrister’s income and whether that goes up or down, year on year, the market will reward those who see the many difficult challenges ahead as opportunities. Business consultants, PR advisers, marketing experts and brand gurus are circling the Bar. Not all will be a good fit, but it is worth hearing what they have to say. There will always be work for those who can identify and develop new business opportunities imaginatively and creatively. The only thing for certain is that it will not happen by accident.
Toby Craig is Head of Communications at the Bar Council
The client is king
Barristers’ chambers are moving through the same commercial challenges faced by law firms five years ago and financial services ten years prior. They have to change the way they work, market themselves, compete for business and adjust working practices.
The main challenges for barristers are to raise their profile, develop relationships and create flexible fee structures or product-based services which meet the requirements and demands of the marketplace. The client is still king after all.
In-house business development and marketing professionals need to have a thorough understanding of the marketplace and of chambers as a whole. They must ensure the strategy meets the demands and requirements of both.
The business development and marketing strategy will need to bring everyone in chambers together to create a stronger and more solid business entity which will have a considerable impact on the marketplace, both in man-power and profile. The larger the group the greater the impact.
Change is always difficult and it is important for any initiatives to be mindful of the traditional, honourable and unique business foundations chambers has been built upon.
Melissa Dickinson, Business Development and Marketing Manager, St Philips Chambers
PR and strategy must work together
PR is about building and strengthening relationships with all the audiences that an organisation or individual must relate to – often through the media – but it should be viewed as one key aspect of a wider marketing strategy for barristers and chambers alike, closely aligned with other business development activity such as networking, in-house seminars and direct marketing.
In today’s rapidly changing market, communicating a barrister’s expertise, or chambers’ “brand values”, to their target audience becomes even more important. With changes in business models and buying patterns, such as direct access to the Bar, or the emergence of ProcureCos, many barristers are facing increased competition, having to market themselves to new audiences, or even (in the case of some criminal sets looking to move into the white-collar arena) completely re-position their business. A clear PR strategy implemented with creativity will provide a targeted, measureable and successful approach.