I think we can all agree that a modern barristers’ chambers (ok… let’s park whether or not that is an oxymoron) should provide a top class service to its clients, founded on high legal competency, creative thinking and a forensic approach to detail. You’re in the business of instilling confidence that the best brains are on the case and all will be well. Wanting to help clients is your major objective… doesn’t matter whether you’re a barrister, clerk or support staff… Asking for help, yourself, therefore, may not be an immediate instinct. You are, after all, the person people go to for help… not the other way around.
A barrister’s performance in court (or as is increasingly the case, in the conference room) is one thing, but considering how much important lawyer-client relationship-building happens outside the courtroom – in preparatory meetings, telephone calls, correspondence, paperwork etc. – it comes as little surprise that the clerks, in particular, are focusing on increasingly rigorous client care and relationship-management programmes… Indeed, the legal directories now ‘award marks’ for client care, as well as legal prowess.
In an ideal world chambers would use this move towards more focused client care to underpin business development, by maximising the ‘return’ on each client relationship – whether through cross-selling into other areas of law or across offices. But the problem is this is still an emerging field. It doesn’t happen terribly consistently and, as a result, new clients are always going to be needed. So where do they come from? Well… word of mouth will only go so far. If a blind faith that new clients will fall from the sky isn’t working out too well, and if employing marketing expertise in-house is a budgetary step too far, then the answer is obvious. Outsourcing some or all of your chambers marketing is not only necessary, but in the competitive legal sector of today it might be plain good sense.
Of course the marketing sector is competitive and crowded… so there will be no shortage of agencies beating a path to your chambers door with promises of flocks of golden egg-laying geese. How best to find the right fit and not waste your money?
Outsourced tasks should be those that cannot successfully or reliably be done in-house. Be realistic here. Expecting someone in your billing department, for example, to take on strategic marketing because they did a couple of marketing modules at university is a sure recipe for failure. Similarly – as so often happens – assuming that a great clerk, with a fantastic client manner can manage social media and email bulletins effectively is a big leap. Refining and implementing your marketing plan needs proper expertise, and experts become experts through years and years of doing the job in the real world and learning what does and does not work.
It does not require a marketing genius to compile an email database for marketing mailshots. Writing the emails that get sent, however, is different. There you need the expertise. Similarly, writing legally dazzling editorial content is going to need a legal expert (and you have those) but getting it placed with the right trade or national publications will take a PR expert… and you’ll probably need to look outside of chambers for one of those. So, first work out marketing objectives and look at your existing resources. The best marketing professionals should want to work with your team, not to be the team. Outsourcing more than you need wastes money and will inevitably lead to questions about where, precisely, these marketing experts are adding value. Don’t go there. Get help where it is genuinely needed and the results will be swift and clear.
The marketing specialists who are right for you should have a clear plan for your business (what… nobody told you that a chambers is a business?) with easily understood and tracked measures of success. They should be able to set out, clearly, what they plan to do to get you the new clients, as well as how they will support client care in getting the best return from existing clients. They should also understand the difference between Set-wide marketing and individual barrister practice development. They should have a proven track record and their fees should be reasonable and commensurate with what you are asking. They should listen to your ideas and demonstrate a willingness to work collaboratively, but be willing to tell you where you are going wrong when it is necessary.
Getting it right isn’t difficult, and when it starts to work you will be wondering why on earth it took you so long to go this route. So, whilst it is true that every chambers is different, in most cases the answer to whether or not you should outsource at least some of your chambers marketing will be yes.