Direct Public Access .....Where are Chambers at?

Direct Public Access.... where are chambers at? 

Chambers and barristers don’t need to procrastinate to make the decision as to where "they" are at, it’s really quite simple, clients and customers are already making it for you...... it's online. 

Through the many sources of social media with a range of mobile devices, anytime, anywhere.  Perhaps the biggest risk of all is ignoring the facts and not getting involved or being visible in this huge space and the opportunities it offers.

The way in which legal services are being sought and selected by clients continues to change and grow at such a pace, they are buying legal services via a range of innovative platforms and methods that are far from the traditional routes and referral models. In the process they are becoming much more informed and getting increasingly savvier with regards to the route of direct instruction and making savings on their legal spend along the way.

The use of the web with a combination of social media and digital networks to search for advice is allowing a  much wider communication and understanding that the direct access route to barristers  is well worthy of proper consideration and  where engagement is online.

The process has allowed the buying power to shift and increasingly enables them to place direct instruction which has little or no respect or regard for the traditional routes of instruction to barristers. Indeed we have seen the emergence of direct access instructions across many chambers to the extent that they are now beginning to acknowledge the huge opportunities it brings including income streams, to meet the demands and expectations with a view to ultimately aligning  business development plans accordingly for strategic competitive advantage. 

In addition we see some chambers with the view that Direct Access for chambers and their barristers as being very well placed and a significant opportunity in specific practice areas where you see them  take a hold to drive new initiatives that would simply not be thought of or entertained in the traditional models. Essentially you are, finally, to be allowed not to just think outside the box but to meet the challenge, follow it through and deliver in some innovative ways.

One of the emerging issues particularly for clients, which is now much clearer and better understood is the   stage at which they are able to engage with the services of a barrister and the advantage it can offer to them by doing so. They see that the advantage is and can increasingly commence much earlier in the legal advice process or indeed at any stage of the proceedings, provided of course they know they are allowed to and the message is communicated clearly without legal jargon. Delivering the concept of engagement of a barrister at the earliest possible opportunity can prove for some chambers to be a difficult issue to overcome, however, those seeking to participate are noticeably servicing and attracting more clients to capture the advantage.

The conversion and qualification of potential clients and by whom is becoming so important that clients expect business development managers, practice directors and clerks to be very well informed to assist them through the initial sifting process. However, the client invariably wants answers to specific questions quickly or straight away from the barrister, in the same way that barristers want to know that clients understand this is not a route of free advice but has a value, a worth and must be paid for. In doing so it allows clients to understand the surprisingly good value offered to them by coming directly to you.  Once they know, it avoids the free advice syndrome or issue and ensures confirmation to the added value of specialist advice and in contracts delivers a “more for less” message.

When that part of the thought process is mastered, communicated and develops into understanding then the opportunity becomes quite obvious. Barristers and chambers can create their own advantage in many regards and there is no better way than creating such opportunities than online. Potential clients  are genuinely waiting to read how for example you can guide them with their issue or dispute, add value in some way, manage a risk to their business or save on legal costs. Indeed in an environment where they are much more likely to engage regardless of any previous relationship that may have been established or built up over years gone by.  

Your service to them in direct access instruction is critical and staying ahead of the game will prove to be part of any business strategy moving forward.  Excellence may prove not to be enough; let’s take an example where firms who were considered for many years as being excellent in levels of service and building client relationships. By ignoring the future needs and demands of their clients and ultimately their buying power it allowed and could even be considered to force clients, both existing and potential to "switch" suppliers. It will be no different if chambers fail to deliver. 

There are a range of tools available which are very well suited in assisting you to encourage them to engage and increasingly instruct you directly. The need therefore to create and develop a positive digital strategy and social footprint is never more pressing to be present now and in the future. The increasing demands and expectations from clients are compelling you to develop a profile that is ever present and build an online following and reputation that they identify with, can tap into and engage whenever they feel like it. By adding value to their client experience in this manner and gaining a level of trust and acknowledgment continually markets your practice and improves your professional status. For many, adopting a simple social media policy that includes for instance all members opening a Linkedin profile can literally make the whole world of difference to you and your client base.

Of course there will always be the route of referrals and key client relationship management techniques whereby barristers obtain clients directly through a relationship they have developed with an existing client. These referrals and direct relationships will of course remain an essential ingredient as a significant engagement service tool. But your clients are demanding a balanced shifting and expect the complimentary online model which will encourage them to refer you on in a much smarter, more efficient and far easier way.  They will in due course deliver more referrals and leads for potential qualification and conversion as simple techniques such as “likes” or re-tweet, “#RT” can place you in front of huge audiences very easily.

So much of the recent research is suggesting and highlighting the fact  that relying solely on the traditional referrals is simply not enough, they want you to widen and broaden your professional networks online it reminds them and keeps you ever-present and at the fore-front of their minds for instruction or referral at any time. For those who remain in chambers and expect the traditional flow of instructions will have noticed for sure that they find themselves with much less to do. Why is that you may ask. There are many reasons but one will inevitably be that there may have been little or no effort made to establish a digital or online presence when others have been pro-active and made positive in-roads.

Clients expect you to know your market and demand a tailored approach so one size or one offer will not fit all. Direct access instructions are no different with some work streams or practice areas lending themselves much better. Piloting and placing one specific group and measuring the return on investment is a necessary part of the process before accelerating or entering in to other identified areas. 

The curve is emerging and becoming much more defined, it is your clients that are forcing it at such a speed. They will produce the next generation of direct access instructions provided you are in the market ready to seize the opportunity and accept them and claim your share of the online market.

About the author:

Jonathan Maskew has been involved in the management and business development of barristers’ chambers for 25 years; from a junior clerk, to senior clerk and as Chambers Director. He developed and delivers the "Managing Public Access" training session through the University of Law.  

Jonathan is currently a director with myBarrister and spearheading a new innovative portal to assist chambers with the lead generation of direct access instructions online.