As reported in Legal Futures in February 2016 (but still as relevant today), 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 other regulated legal professionals as well as unregulated service providers.”
(Please also see this article in which 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 great deal of experience working with leading advocates in Scotland and barristers in England and Wales, including several prominent QCs (including our founder Stephen Moore’s father George Moore QC and others such as Jonathan Fisher QC and Mark Kelly), we thought that it would be useful to set out our thoughts on why barristers shouldn't view this news pessimistically, but instead think about how they can take advantage of current market conditions and make themselves more visible and instantly appealing than their competitors.
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 among the main challenges for barristers:-
- 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).
So how can you use the internet more effectively to ensure that you survive and thrive in the current environment (aside from continuing to do an excellent job for your clients)?
(It’s worth noting that the ‘success drivers’ we would utilise to help a barristers’ Chambers achieve success online may vary from those we might employ to help our typical law firm clients. For further information on how we help modern lawyers thrive, please 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.)
Online marketing for barristers
In our experience online marketing for barristers requires a slightly different approach to that which applies to our more typical law firm clients, but there are similarities. To thrive in a turbulent marketplace, its vital to focus on enhancing your online presence and reputation for outstanding client service within your particular niche. When it comes to helping barristers succeed online our strategy generally revolves around establishing a position of thought leadership, authority and expertise.
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).
This suggests that while enhancing your online profile to appear prominently in organic search (through traditional online marketing activities such as SEO) is still relevant, particularly for those targeting the direct access (public access) market and certain types of legal practice, adopting a long-term holisitc approach to developing an easily accessible portal of thought leadership and opinion is how barristers can win online.
Barristers need to embrace the internet to survive and prosper
When addressing audiences of solicitors 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 Head Clerk 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 continues to move at an incredible pace and is much more advanced than it was even a few years ago when the first of the BabyBarista novels was published. By ensuring that your online presence keeps pace with best practice and current trends, you will create many more opportunities to achieve the following outcomes and much more besides:-
- increase brand awareness
- present to intent based, contextual and distressed searching
- establish yourself in a position of thought leadership
- develop media relations
- get more people to attend your seminars and speaking engagements.
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 designer to photoshop out blemishes on profile photos, as he’s asked to do from time to time).
Internet marketing for barristers – stats and 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 more business through a holisitc approach to online marketing (including content marketing, conversion-focused website design, search engine optimisation, PPC etc.) 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 publication – ‘B2B Law Firm Online Strategy: 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 an article 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. In that post, “5 Ways Barristers Can Seize Opportunities Online…(Watch Out Solicitors)”, we noted (and went into detail) on the following as some of the main things to consider:-
- Get Your Own Website (Or Refresh If It’s Not Working)
- Get Better at Social Media to Support Your Networking
- Set Up a Niche Legal Blog Within Your Website
- Invest in Local SEO and Unique Content
- Set Up a Regular Client e-Newsletter