Guest blog: Daniel J ShenSmith: The Business of Barristers
30 June 2016
What do skirting boards, backpacks and barristers' services have
in common? Clearly they are very disparate, and barristers'
services are a highly regarded profession, but the business
processes to produce new clients and provide appropriate levels of
service are very much the same.
I have successfully developed diverse businesses for many years
using the same business mechanics, revolutionising the timber
industry by selling skirting board online,
and streamlining the client route to legal advice and
representation from public access barristers via ShenSmith
Below are the key components that have made all of the above
businesses successful, which you can use to create or build on your
direct access practice.
Getting your website
Exemplified by the increasing demise of high-street brands, your
website is your most important marketing tool. And there are some
simple, yet crucial elements that you need to implement for your
practice to be successful.
Most of all, your website must be clean, uncluttered and easy on
the eyes. This can be achieved as follows:
Use as few colours as possible. Ideally 3 or less; preferably a
white background, black/grey font, and one other 'theme' colour -
possibly matching your logo / Chambers colours.
Avoid using white text on a black background - this is
uncomfortable to read as it inverts the eyes' standard perception
Use clear, non-decorative font of size no less than 13px or
14px. Most content management systems make this relatively
straightforward to achieve.
Use some photos. Pictures really do speak many words and make it
easier for clients to conceptualise the page they are on. Check our
road traffic law page to see this in action - you will have an
idea of what the page will be about, without even reading the
Wherever possible, use videos, too. Clients find it much easier
to listen to a well produced video than to read blocks of text. See
barrister videos for examples.
Make sure your phone number and email are on larger font,
ideally in the header, and on every page of your site.
Responding promptly to your prospective client is the most
important important factor, bar none, after being found in the
Ideally, every call or email will be answered promptly and the
client should be given assurances that their matter will be dealt
with within a specific timeframe, a brief explanation as to how the
direct access process will work, and what will happen next.
Statistics show that if these things don't happen at the outset,
the client will unceremoniously call the next number on the list
and not give you another thought.
Ideally, avoid using call centres to handle your calls. Not only
are there strict limits on the help they can provide the
prospective client, and information they can take, but, more
importantly, many clients are quite aware when a call centre picks
up their call and they will likely feel uncomfortable to leave
sensitive details, or simply have little confidence that their
enquiry has been sufficiently addressed. ShenSmith Barristers
handles calls for many barristers' direct access enquiries, so that
sufficient help is always on hand for the client, irrespective of
the barrister being in court.
Respond to your clerks as quickly as possible, even if it is a
few words in reply to an urgent question. The clerks can then have
a meaningful conversation with the client, ensuring their
confidence and consistent communication, but without eating up too
much of your time.
Follow through on your assurances. If the client is promised an
email or telephone call at a certain time, or within a timeframe,
make sure this happens. This massively improves client experience,
even if it is only a holding call or email, before having had time
to deal with the issues, but failure to do so will very often have
an immediate and disastrous effect on your relationship.
More people use website traffic tracking tools today than ever
before. However they are only as useful as what you do with the
data. For example, many Chambers will have analytics set up for
their website to track the number of visitors to the site, but
Google Analytics, for example, can track how many website
visitors have converted into a phone call and/or contact form
submission, and from which sources (e.g. Twitter, Adwords, Blogs),
while maintaining anonymity of the prospective client. You can then
funnel efforts into those activities for maximum return on your
efforts. ShenSmith Barristers also helped another online direct
access portal setup 'heat map' tracking to understand the client
experience on their website.
Once a prospective direct access client makes contact, they
enter an interim period of client relationship management - more
than a casual visitor, but not yet a formal client.
Many Chambers and traditional businesses still use notepads to
jot down client enquiries. This not only poses data protection
risks, but there is also a 'shelf life' of the notebooks to
realistically recall / search for information. However, by storing
our contact records on secure cloud platforms, we can instantly
search all client since our records began, with nothing stored on
our physical hard drives - thus eliminating risks of hard disks
being stolen. During quieter periods, you can more easily review
contacts to see whether any follow-up work is required.
If you run any offline forms of advertising, you should attach a
unique phone number to each advert so that you can identify where
your clients are finding you offline, thus cutting out efforts that
do not produce work.
Tracking prospects that don't convert can also yield valuable
information. It may simply be that fees were too high, or lack of
communication - either way, you will glean ideas to improve your
No one likes uncertainty, least of all when they have a legal
issue. However there are many refreshingly simple ways you can
instil a feeling of certainty and clarity in your clients without
compromising your professional duty or giving any misleading
Describe your practice areas clearly on your website, but
without going into too much detail of each.
State clearly whether you accept fixed fees, and whether you
charge VAT. Fixed fees are the simplest way of simplifying costs
for clients, and removes the common fear of soaring costs
associated with legal processes. (They also help to clarify your
regulatory and contractual relationship)
Use plain and simple language, both on your website, and in your
correspondence. While the language you use needs to adequately
convey information, it also needs to be appropriate to your
client's level of expertise.
Don't avoid telling clients that they may not like the advice
you give them. By managing this expectation from the beginning you
are more likely to avoid complaints and upset in the event that
your advice is such that your client does not have an arguable
case. Simply tell your client that the advice will be impartial,
whether they have an arguable case or not. This may seem obvious,
but is too often missed out, and clients always respond better to
frank information than to being surprised by something after the
Finally, the most reliable and often cheapest form of
advertising is networking. Most people have anything between 50 -
1000 contacts in their address book, whether they are on LinkedIn,
Facebook or just their phone. New clients are also more likely to
trust you if you have been introduced through a mutual contact.
Daniel J ShenSmith, Co-founder of ShenSmith