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Online business generation in a fragmenting legal sector – barristers still missing out?

Online business generation in a fragmenting legal sector – barristers still missing out?

As reported in Legal Futures recently, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has warned that barristers are at risk of being “squeezed out of the market by a declining case load, a surfeit of barristers and increasing competition from both other regulated legal professionals as well as unregulated service providers.”

In our blog from last year (indeed one of our most widely read blogs of that year), we outlined some of the main pressures and opportunities in the legal sector as a whole, some of which apply to barristers.

Given that we have a good deal of experience working with various leading advocates in Scotland and barristers in England & Wales, including several prominent QCs (which indeed includes our founder Stephen Moore’s father George Moore QC), we thought it would be good to set out our thoughts on how barristers can think about this news not in pessimistic terms of doom and gloom, but instead think about how to take advantage of the current market and beat competitors who’ve been sticking their head in the sand (or their existing case files).

What are the main challenges for barristers?

The BSB has already set out (in a strategy doc out for consultation) what it considers to be some of the main challenges for barristers and for any barristers reading you’ll appreciate these pressures more acutely than us:-

  • changing consumer demands and expectations
  • technological advances
  • global competition
  • considerable government pressure to deregulate
  • no reduction in the trend of ever greater transparency and public accountability
  • relentless pressure on barristers’ costs
  • the current model for the administration of justice in criminal, family and immigration courts (inc cost of legal aid and court administration)

Among others. So what can be done (aside from continuing to do an excellent job for your clieints)? What questions should you be asking? First it’s appropriate to realise that legal marketing for barristers is different to that general advice you may hear about how lawyers should be marketing their practices online (for which see this great branding & design intro for law firms written by our director Chris Davidson; or this content marketing for law firms intro from my colleague Dave Kerr).

Legal marketing for barristers – a different beast

Legal marketing online for barristers requires a different approach to that for law firms or lawyers, but there are similarities. Indeed, we have our own service page dedicated entirely to internet marketing for barristers.

In terms of online strategy, while generating new business online from Google searches is still relevant insofar as that work is desired for direct access (public access) purposes and for certain types of legal practice (such as immigration law) particularly where distress purchases are concerned, it’s more about helping the barristers to grow their reputation online and to become well known as the expert that others (including other law firms and other barristers) should go to for specialist advice and representation in one or more niche areas. Those with a good chance of thriving in a turbulent marketplace are those with a real niche and a great reputation for outstanding client service who are always going to be in demand.

Opinions from some leading figures at the helm of their barristers’ Chambers reiterate the need for this approach. Stephen Ward, Chief Executive of the chambers Clerksroom, for example, notes that around half of all of their Chambers’ cases were referred by law firms and 30% from other barristers’ chambers unable to carry out the work themselves, with only 20% coming from direct access work (figures again reported in Legal Futures).

These are honest black and white stats, quite different from your average law firm’s sources of enquiries, and we’re not going to suggest for a minute that a standard SEO (search engine optimisation) or social media approach is going to be a magic cure to get you all the clients you need to survive in this fragmenting legal marketplace. Instead, using these stats, online strategies should be created around them and informed by them. For our internet marketing team, looking at such percentages of sources of business (ie 80% referral work), one of the first questions that would be asked is ‘How do we attract greater numbers of enquiries from these referrers of business?’.

Barristers need to embrace the internet to survive and prosper

When addressing audiences of lawyers or barristers on the importance of an effective online strategy, I’m reminded of a chapter of one of Tim Kevan’s BabyBarista novels, where BabyB is in Chambers and HeadClerk announces that they should all get more involved in social media. These are some of the main retorts that showcase some of the main concerns many barristers and lawyers have when asked to embrace such online technologies for their practices:-

  • “most of them end up coming across like the lecherous old uncle tagging along at a student disco”
  • “It's either that or they've gone to the other extreme and are turning into some kind of maniacal nerd who spends all their days trying to get followers” (editor’s admission: this sounds a bit like me in my early days of using Twitter in a law firm)
  • “it can't be any worse than SlipperySlope who's been spamming people for years trying to get them to claim for whiplash”
  • “Then there's OldSmoothie who's started tweeting from court like there's no business. He's so rude about his own clients and solicitors that he's become a bit of a sensation.”

And while this is a fictional (albeit still brilliant) account of what is probably the perception of the main fears of barristers getting involved in social media and online technologies, many of these concerns are unfounded if you put in place a serious, robust online strategy with solid goals and business objectives.

The internet is moving at an incredible pace and is much more advanced than it was even from a few years ago from the first of the BabyBarista novels. Failing to keep up with change will eradicate your competitive advantage. But if you keep up with the pace of change, you have many opportunities to achieve the following outcomes:-

  • increased brand awareness
  • present to intent based, contextual and distressed searching
  • improve online recognition
  • maintain peer group advantage
  • decrease length of client journey from conundrum to advisor
  • consistently present your personal brand and that of your practice
  • penetrate relevant thought and discussion in social media channels and even influence a change in the law!
  • promote thought leadership
  • get more people to attend your seminars and speaking engagements.

Among various others. It really depends what you want to get out of the internet – the beauty of it is that it allows you to present as you want to be seen (and I’m not talking about asking our web designer to photoshop out blemishes on profile photos, as he’s asked to do from time to time).

In passing when mentioning BabyBarista, I’d also recommend you read the cyber-stalking chapter where social media is discussed in the context of being a useful technology to assist with investigations in a fraud case. So there are other reasons to embrace online technologies.

Internet marketing for barristers – the stats & expert opinion

A few years ago, at the time of Eddie Stobart’s foray into the barrister marketing space, our founder and online business generation expert Stephen Moore said:-

“…there are many barristers' chambers (and indeed advocates' stables) that are not utilising the opportunities afforded by the Internet. Generating business online through investment in conversion-focused website design, search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media strategies provides high returns on investment for all legal services providers. Increased word of mouth referrals, high visibility in search engines for targeted keyword searches and enhanced website conversion rates are just some of the benefits of a solid online business generation strategy.

From an SEO perspective, there are many people searching Google within the UK each month for relevant barrister services. This includes, for instance, 2,400 monthly searches for 'criminal barrister', 1,900 for 'employment barristers', 1,000 for 'immigration barrister' and, more locally, 170 for 'employment barrister london'. Each of these searches has the potential for someone to convert into a client or at the very least enhance the reputation of a chambers by their high appearance in search.

And it's not just consumers looking to instruct barristers or advocates online; key decision-makers within businesses and other lawyers use Google, Bing, LinkedIn, Twitter and other tools just as anyone else to make sure their legal service provider is the best one for them.”

To elaborate on this, particularly the last point, please see our other blog post – ‘I’m a business owner, therefore I don’t use the internet to find a lawyer’ – similar principles will apply to other lawyers and barristers not capable of doing certain pieces of client work and who are therefore in need of expert barristers to whom they can refer the business.

And back in 2014, we published a blog post with further detailed tips for online strategies for barristers (similar to this one) following a report that there were strong litigation opportunities to be gained by barristers with certain specialisms. And in that post, “5 Ways Barristers Can Seize Opportunities Online…(Watch Out Solicitors)”, we noted (and went into detail) on the following main things to consider:-

  1. Get Your Own Website (Or Refresh If It’s Not Working)
  2. Get Better at Social Media to Support Your Networking
  3. Set Up a Niche Legal Blog Within Your Website
  4. Invest in Local SEO and Unique Content
  5. Set Up a Regular Client e-Newsletter

Get the online presence you deserve – free initial consultations available

Today, you cannot rely on business falling into your lap. The halcyon days of trusting word of mouth business alone without an online strategy or faith in the power of the web could lead to you missing serious opportunities – opportunities that could be ending up going to your competitors, whether or not they would provide a better service.

For any barrister, advocate, chambers, stables or lawyers looking to improve the amount of business they generate online themselves, we are happy to provide a free initial consultation. Providing a highly competitive service driven by results, we’ll ensure that your return is greater than your investment.

So we’d love to have a chat to see if we can help you too. Fill out our online enquiry form here or give us a call on 0333 130 6755 and ask for Chris.

And one last thing. If your main response to the above is that your only or best sources of work are from referrals (a reasonable point for various practice areas), ask yourself this – how are those referrals going to happen? Is your website going to be part of the sales funnel? And via a mobile device? Almost inevitably, for the majority of people looking to do business with you. So when they spend their limited 10 or 20 seconds of their time evaluating your offering online, make that count and make sure as many as possible are converted quickly. Want to know how that’s done? Ask us about CRO.

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