A new Legal Futures report, “Barristers urged to grab litigation opportunities after “modest” beginning”, notes that only 129 barristers have seized the opportunity to conduct litigation in England & Wales since the restriction was removed a few years ago. Barristers should be considering how to harness this opportunity should it be right for their business model. Having helped many barristers achieve online success, Moore Legal Technology present 5 of the top ways barristers can thrive online and rely less on just solicitor referrals.
Litigation Opportunities for Direct Access Barristers: A “One-Stop Trial Lawyer Service”
On 22 January 2014 the restriction on self-employed barristers conducting litigation was removed – the authorisation could be granted following an application to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) (employed barristers already authorised to conduct litigation retained that authorisation).
With the aim of relieving clients approaching Public Access barristers from having to act as a self-representing litigant if not going through a solicitor (a potentially ‘baffling’ situation), the expectation was that more self-employed barristers would have chosen this route by now. But it may just be a matter of time.
Vice-Chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), Patricia Robertson QC speaking recently at Saturday’s annual Bar conference, noted that “solicitors have been able to compete with the bar doing advocacy since 1994 – 20 years on the Bar remains trial specialists. It is now time to let the Bar compete in providing a full service across the market.” As Ms Robertson notes, the changes in January have enabled barristers to offer a “one-stop trial lawyer service”.
Explaining potential reasons for the “modest numbers”, Ms Robertson said it could have been because of uncertainty as to the process, as to whether it was good for their business model or because of lack of support systems in chambers.
A Level Playing Field In Advocacy: “Just Do It”
Legal Futures cites one of the first barristers to gain litigation rights and founder of direct access firm Barristers & Co, Amanda de Winter, who has said the move was “a real opportunity for the Bar…It is a gift to level the playing field in light of the advocacy work being done by solicitors…Just do it – it’s easier than you think.”
Top 5 Ways Barristers Can Excel Online
If you are developing your business plan and looking at ways to grow your practice (particularly if you’re considering the ability to conduct litigation through the opportunity outlined above), here are 5 of the top ways you can excel online based on our experience:-
1. Get Your Own Website (Or Refresh If It’s Not Working)
The number of barristers we get asking us to help them design and build a website separate from their chambers website is increasing significantly. 5 years ago, internet marketing for barristers was in its infancy; now, for some, it’s fundamental. Even for those barristers who don’t want to pursue the litigation opportunity noted above can benefit from a website separate from their own site. It affords them the opportunity of getting extra touch points, extra positions in search results, extra ability to add significant amounts of new content or develop new functionality that they aren’t able to achieve within their existing chambers website.
Built properly, your website can achieve your business objectives and that includes targeting relevant litigation leads directly for your practice areas. Done incorrectly with pretty pictures and no substance and you risk paying thousands for something that just won’t generate income and will need redone in the future. Read more about Barrister Website Design here.
2. Get Better at Social Media to Support Your Networking
Every month we see barristers joining Twitter and LinkedIn for the first time. Some go on just to have a holder profile; some take it more seriously, update and connect with their growing networks regularly and try to join the discussion related to their specialisms. But we don’t see too many barristers successfully standing out on social media to become better known for their specialisms.
If getting started for the first time, get your branding done professionally and use a professional, consistent avatar, similar to that used on your website. Listen more than you post initially – you may not realise it, but there are more eyeballs on your updates that you might think. And in addition to your organic growth on Twitter and LinkedIn, consider promoted posts. For instance, you may want to use LinkedIn to target, say, ‘Managing Directors’ in a certain location, in a certain sector.
But don’t think it’s about ‘push marketing’, where you bombard your contacts with promotional updates, risking spamming. ‘Pull marketing’, otherwise known as ‘inbound marketing’ is the best way to approach this – if you share useful information and connect with people without trying to make a sale on your first messages to them, you’re more likely to attract relevant people to you.
Whatever you do, make sure you have some form of social media strategy in place, whether written down or just in your head.
3. Set Up a Niche Legal Blog Within Your Website
Barristers are capable of writing tens of thousands of words in pleadings and client communication every week. Think about how many of those words could be repurposed into blog posts or service page content for your own website (after anonymisation). Being able to connect with a defined audience through a niche legal blogging strategy can work particularly well and indeed there are various examples of successful and popular legal blogs by barristers, such as leading human rights barrister Adam Wagner’s UK Human Rights Blog, which was recently used to great effect during the ECHR debate.
Writing about the most recent stories in your niche, with your own expert comment, is not new: barristers have been writing for journals and papers for years. Today’s content marketing opportunities are better and can be much more targeted provided you do it right, and regular niche legal blogging (whether on your site or guest blogging on someone else’s) is one great way to achieve this.
Why Have Your Legal Blog Within Your Own Website?
One technical point: it’s recommended that you have your legal blog included within a subfolder your own website eg. www.website.com/blog, rather than on a standalone platform or in a subdomain eg blog.website.com. Design and even the platform don’t have to the same as your website, but it should be within it in subfolder form. Why? Each new piece of content that you add to your blog (essentially being added as a ‘subfolder’ within the main site) will benefit from the existing strength of your main domain. If the blog is a subdomain or new domain it will be, for the purposes of search engines, separate from your main domain and will rely on its own individual strengths and backlinks. Effectively, your content and effort will be spread far too thinly across multiple sites instead of focused within your main website. See this and this from Moz for further reading on this.
Leading SEO commentator Rank Fishkin’s quote from 8 years ago on this is particularly apt: “99.9% of the time, if a subfolder will work, it's the best choice for all parties.” This is still best advice. And indeed Rand Fishkin clarifies this in his recent video here at 7mins30seconds. Giving the example of where to host a blog (which involves similar considerations as landing page content), Rand says “never, ever, ever use a subdomain or a separate root domain to host your blog. Reason being, your ability to generate domain authority and the potential rankings boost that comes from the rising tide of domain authority, sort of lifting all the ships on the domain, will be split if you put it on a sub domain; and of course, will be completely split if you put it on a separate root domain. Keeping it all in a sub folder is the best thing that you can do for your SEO.”
If you choose this approach with your blog, all existing content will benefit from this strength also and will benefit from all backlinks and social shares/mentions for your main site. Building a blog into your main domain will allow it to perform much better for you, with your website traffic, rankings and ultimately numbers of quality enquiries rising significantly as a result.
4. Invest in Local SEO and Unique Content
Appearing at the top of Google consistently for target search phrases in crucial if you’re relying on a steady stream of online business (profitable leads). And it can help reinforce your brand in the minds of people searching around areas of practice. Think this doesn’t apply to you because you’re a barrister? Business owners, partners in law firms, your next client – they all search Google (and other search engines). Don’t make the mistake of thinking this stuff doesn’t or can’t apply to you. It can. But you have to believe in it.
With ongoing investment in SEO, particularly local SEO (targeting your main locations of practice, which could indeed by UK-wide), and unique content, you can achieve great organic non-paid listings in Google fairly quickly and ultimately potentially end up with an enquiry whiteboard that looks like this:-
In our team at Moore Legal Technology, we’ve seen every type of online enquiry imaginable. Yes, you may get the odd irrelevant punter off the street trying to contact you (who you don’t have to reply to), but if done correctly you’ll also attract business owners facing or pursuing serious litigation or looking for an expert opinion from you, and they’ll have searched for exactly the same term in Google as law firms and lawyers will have been targeting.
Google Keyword Planner shows that there are the following number of average searches made every month for relevant barrister terms:-
- Barrister – 9,900
- London Barrister – 1,380
- Immigration Barristers - 410
- Criminal Barrister – 330
- Family Barrister – 70
- Employment Barrister - 70
Indeed these opportunities led to entities like Stobart Barrister trying to capitalise (albeit for various reasons Stobart Barristers no longer provides legal advice to the public).
So there are some significant opportunities to rank highly in search and capture relevant leads; just be careful not to do your SEO on the cheap – look around on Fiverr.com and you’ll see what look like great SEO deals. A lot of these are black-hat (not white-hat) and could get you penalised by Google either now or in the longer term.
We expect to see more algorithm updates from Google every month, particularly to their Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates. Overall, high quality and thorough useful content properly presented to search will prevail. Indeed we set up a content marketing company for lawyers and barristers just because of this (see Curated Media; also on LinkedIn here).
5. Set Up a Regular Client e-Newsletter
A professionally-designed e-newsletter built into either your website or platforms like MailChimp or AWeber can work to great effect. Particularly when you have more capacity than usual it can be worthwhile emailing your contacts to let them know you have availability to turn work around faster than usual. But even if you’re not desperate for the work, it’s always good to build your word-of-mouth reputation and become top-of-mind for your specialism with your growing network. Finished delivering a seminar or podcast? Consider blogging about it, adding slides to SlideShare or disseminating your notes by mailshot.
Conclusions: Aim to Grow Your Practice
Whether you’re thinking about growing your own practice by becoming authorised to conduct litigation or not, for whatever reason, you should be looking to improve the quality of the business you generate online. Aim for the most profitable and fulfilling work; avoid the ‘tyre kickers’ (as we call them). Build an online business generation strategy to get you there; don’t just build a site with pretty pictures without substance. And consider the tips above – these are among the top things you should be considering.
One of our barrister customers, Jonathan Fisher QC, had this to say about our work for him to date: “I have been very impressed with Moore Legal Technology's work. The design and implementation of my website is excellent, and the firm excels in customer welfare and ensuring customer satisfaction. I am happy to unhesitatingly recommend the firm.”
For further information as to how you can embrace the concepts of inbound marketing to generate more profitable business and grow your reputation online, as we’ve done for Jonathan above, contact Chris on 0845 620 5664 or 07969336526 or fill out our online enquiry form here.