Guest blog: Daniel J ShenSmith: The Business of Barristers

30 June 2016

 Daniel ShenSmith

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 Barristers

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 right 

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:

  1. 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. 

  2. Avoid using white text on a black background - this is uncomfortable to read as it inverts the eyes' standard perception of light.

  3. Use clear, non-decorative font of size no less than 13px or 14px. Most content management systems make this relatively straightforward to achieve.

  4. 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 text.

  5. Wherever possible, use videos, too. Clients find it much easier to listen to a well produced video than to read blocks of text. See our barrister videos for examples.

  6. Make sure your phone number and email are on larger font, ideally in the header, and on every page of your site. 

Being Responsive

  1. Responding promptly to your prospective client is the most important important factor, bar none, after being found in the first place.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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. 

Tracking & Analytics 

  1. 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 nothing more.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 practice.

Clarity & Certainty 

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 advice: 

  1. Describe your practice areas clearly on your website, but without going into too much detail of each.

  2. 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)

  3. 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.

  4. 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 event. 

Networking 

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 Barristers