Are traditional barristers in danger of being left behind?

Are traditional barristers in danger of being left behind?
Counsel Magazine
(Published in COUNSEL magazine, December 2022)


Are you getting left behind?

For practicing barristers, many skills, along with technical knowledge, are developed and perfected over time once you’re on your feet. As such, there is an inherent element of continuous learning and improvement baked into the day job.

While professionals in other industries seek additional qualifications or skills to enhance their CVs, the Bar historically has tended towards a “less is more” approach, typically only wishing to spend time and money on non-legal training when it is mandated, for example, by a regulator.

However, in today’s ever-changing societal landscape, that tradition is changing, with a new generation of barristers seeking out more and more ways to enhance and broaden their skillset, better connect with solicitors and clients, and improve their career and practice immeasurably.

Are traditional barristers in danger of not keeping up with the times?

In 2023, there has been an increasing trend for forward-thinking chambers to encourage their members to get involved in diverse training and certification initiatives to demonstrate to clients that they have a competitive edge over other sets. This is part of a long-term strategy to ensure chambers as a whole can meet demands from law firms and instructing bodies that sit outside the customary legal services provision. Requirements around diversity, privacy, and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) are increasingly standard prerequisites to tendering for work. To meet these relatively new demands, chambers and their barristers need to evolve to ensure they survive.

On an individual barrister level, understanding how to communicate with new generations of clients, such as Gen-Z and Millennials, Gen-Xers need to ensure they can deliver high quality advice and representation while operating in a demanding, technology-focused world that requires new skills. Arguably, today’s newly qualified barristers need vastly different skills than have been necessary in the past.

Aside from winning more work and career progression, there is an opportunity to bring about positive change in society and evolve on a personal level.

What’s the solution?

Those successfully evolving understand that the old way of doing things is less effective than it used to be and that there is opportunity to be had if you can move away from the mind-set of ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’.

Not every set of chambers or barrister will move with the times, which means there are openings for younger, ambitious barristers and new sets to surge forward; demonstrating they are better, more roundly qualified and win more work.

How can chambers take action?

  • Review your current training & certification programmes

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of all training completed by members and staff, including both basic and advanced training. First, review regulatory training requirements to ensure that you have the basics covered. These requirements have evolved over the years, so it is important to double-check that you are complying. A training checklist is available to help you with this process which we can provide for you, if you contact our in-house barrister, chris@getbriefed.com

  • Look for low hanging fruit

Spend some time identifying where existing problems are – speak to your clerking team. Are any barristers losing out on work because of poor feedback for any reason? If so, why? How can that be addressed? Do they need support or mentoring to upskill?

  • Speak to your marketing team

Are they getting what they need from barristers to successfully market the set? For example, if you arrange client events, do your barristers all understand how to put together a networking plan and use these events effectively to build relationships and win work?

  • Speak with your leadership team

Are your clerks and chambers staff happy? Are they feeling valued by the members or is there an opportunity to improve the culture with some workplace training?

Recruiting new chambers staff is time consuming and costly. By making sure they work in a well-supported respectful environment will be key to retaining your professional team and will help promote recruiting new staff in the future.

  • Research and set goals

Research your clients’ needs. Speak to key instructing solicitors and find out what demands are being made on them from their own clients. What are their priorities? What are their pain points? Once you understand their needs, you can start to develop goals that will help you meet those needs.

It’s also worth speaking to law firms whom you aspire to work for. What are they looking for from chambers? How you can you align with their goals?

  • Identify your competitive advantage

What makes your chambers unique? What can you offer clients that other chambers cannot? Once you have identified your competitive advantages, you can start to develop goals that will help you leverage those advantages.

For example, if you are a planning or environmental law set and work with clients that are focused on green issues, you may want to consider pursuing B Corp certification as Brabners Solicitors have done. The B Corp certification is a globally recognised accreditation for businesses that meet high standards of social and environmental performance and pursuing a B Corp certification can also be a valuable way for chambers to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and to attract similarly minded clients.

If you work for firms that are constant targets of cybercrime their focus may be on data and security. Can you work towards Cyber Essentials Plus or the new ICO GDPR Certification? How else can you demonstrate superior focus on data security?

For client-facing barristers, do your barristers know how to communicate effectively with diverse individuals? For example, a barrister who has never met a transgender client may struggle to understand the challenges they face and how to best represent them in court. Extra training can help barristers to gain a better understanding of the real-world experiences of their clients, which will make them more effective advocates.

The good news is that there is an abundance of opportunity for ambitious barristers and chambers to develop new skills and achieve accreditations which will increase their value to clients, improve careers and practices as well as contribute to the wider community.

Therefore, it’s important to take action, otherwise you might get left behind…

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