It has become something of a truism that lawyers should be doing more online. There are any number of consultancies and experts far better placed to state that than me.
However, the paucity of regular content from barristers chambers reveals that hammering home this message isn't really working. My guess is that there is a perceived disconnect between what are seen as "marketing activities" and being instructed to act for more clients. There also seems to be a slight reticence to dilute the daily activities associated with one of the world's oldest & most traditional of professions.
The changing legal environment necessitates a change in behaviours to keep up with the times, one of those big shifts was the Direct Access Rules which shook up how barristers, claimants and those acting on their behalf can interact.
In everyday parlance, it's streamlining the legal process by cutting out the middle-person, enabling claimants to directly contact a barrister without first having to go through a 3rd party (solicitor etc.). The main benefits are reduced costs (no solicitors' fees etc.) and purportedly quicker legal advice. For a complete history of Direct Access, as well as the impact felt today, do check out this excellent article by John Antell of King's Bench Walk Chambers who go into the minutia of the Direct Access rules.)
I am not qualified to discuss the ins and outs of this from a legal perspective, but during a conversation with the team at one of London's leading chambers last week, I was left thinking as to how all barristers could make the most of this situation.
One might argue that barristers aren't really taking advantage of this route to market, with only around 20% of legal work coming via. direct access according to Legal Futures - the rest coming in the form of referrals from other chambers & direct instructions from law firms.
With a new route to their clients, they should most certainly be thinking of how best to take advantage of this new access, without neglecting (and even irritating those) parties who have traditionally instructed them. However, as John Antell comments in the above link, the likelihood is that for high-value cases, solicitors will still be engaged as they offer additional legal advice and expertise that cannot always be provided for by the barrister. However, those barristers not seizing the opportunity will inevitably be missing out.
The answer, as you might have guessed, is through content marketing.
Indeed, with over 2,400 searches every month online for "criminal barrister" on Google, it shows that there is a very big opportunity for barristers to build their own brand, the brand of the Chambers under whose roof they operate and most importantly position themselves as the ongoing, go-to expert in the niche area(s) in which they operate.
As such, they need a subtle & effective way to nurture those people within their networks.
There are a number of reasons why I feel this is relevant:
1. Barristers are mostly self-employed and independent practitioners. As such, they are responsible for generating their own business but as one lawyer commented to me recently, "Time spent marketing is time not spent fee-earning." Thus, a time-effective way to maximise reach, without treading on anyone's toes and which consistently reasserts their expertise to the right people is of real value. Writing very targeted and relevant content solves this issues.
2. By their very nature, barristers are highly trained and very expert individuals, usually with an area of specialisation which allows them to represent you in court. The tenets of any strong piece of thought leadership are the timeliness, relevance and the trustworthiness of the source - something which barristers tend to cover quite well.
Check out any barristers chambers or publication and you will encounter a very expert bit of literature. These are highly trained and proficient individuals. Getting them to turn their expertise to something slightly more creative and accessible, will pay long-term dividends for them and for their chambers.
Anyone can now go directly to a barrister without having to involve anyone else (e.g. a solicitor)... Because the barrister's role is unchanged and there are limits on the types of work that a barrister can do, there are still some cases and situations in which you will need to instruct a solicitor or another intermediary as well as a barrister. However, for many cases the public access scheme allows you to go directly to the expert barrister for advice, representation and drafting.