Guest blog: Why we became an ABS

15 June 2017

Daniel ShenSmith, Co-Founder ShenSmith Law, explains why alternative business structures and licensed bodies are good for the Bar. 

 Daniel ShenSmith


Law: a matter of perspective

The Bar Standards Board published a report on 30 May 2017 indicating that clients' needs and expectations are among the main drivers for innovation at the Bar. Speaking from personal experience as a former client of both the traditional route and direct access, I wholeheartedly agree - and I'm not alone. The client journey can be a daunting one for even the simplest of cases and due to the typically contentious nature of legal disputes, clients almost always feel vulnerable and lost in the legal arena.

We engineered ShenSmith Barristers to reflect and deliver the top-tier service we received as direct access clients in stark contrast to the roadblocks and lack of control we experienced beforehand.

I recently described in a Thomson Reuters interview how clients often feel overwhelmed by an ongoing case, because it willalways be personal to them and every letter or email can spark panic. To a seasoned lawyer, correspondence, court deadlines and appearances are the daily norm, but to a lay client it may be the first and only time of their life they will be pulled into a litigious battle of resolve; therefore, clients invariably need a full spectrum of both moral and legal support. This, in my view, is the core element of access to justice that the BSB promotes. 

Marketing the Bar

I began marketing businesses aged 16 with a musical workshop venture, turning my attention many years later to the legal market in 2008 to raise awareness of the many benefits the Bar has to offer. We had a hugely positive response from our launch of Barrister Direct and worked closely with Ronald DeKoven of myBarrister to build a marketing strategy and negotiate for the acquisition of its domain name as it became a major player in barrister-client introductions.

ShenSmith Barristers introduced our database of tens of thousands of business customers to the idea of using a barrister for legal advice, drawing in work across a wide range of practice areas. The Bar Council's own Direct Access Portal provided public access barristers with an official profile to make their services available to businesses and the public with very little effort, bringing another avenue of attracting work to your practice. 

In a direct access seminar and in my guest blog The Business of Barristers I outlined essential pointers for barristers looking to set up or expand their direct access practice. However, business skills and marketing may not be your forte. Neither, I suggest, do you have the time and energy it takes to learn and/or put into practice the skills necessary to build up a business independent of your chambers website profile. As Roxanne Selby of Thomson Reuters observed in her blog on growing a public access practice, clients' lack of awareness of the scheme remains a key barrier to instructing a barrister directly as they are often unaware of what the barrister can do for them and the scope of any potential any cost savings in seeking advice and representation - cue BSB Licensed Bodies.

We are very pleased to bring to market ShenSmith Law as one of the first to be authorised under the new initiative launched in April 2017. Licensed Bodies are also referred to as Alternative Business Structures, because they are just that - analternative to the traditional chambers model, bringing a business element to promote the Bar and, therefore, widening the scope for access to justice.

We aim to target our marketing at both businesses and the general public to offer fully-packaged legal support under the supervision of senior commercial litigation barrister Dirk van Heck, while maintaining the speed and efficiency you would expect from a seasoned business team. The litigation-authorised ABS can provide the lay client with end-to-end continuity and up-to-date feedback throughout their case by effectively channeling communication with their barrister. 

How ABSs can help barristers 

As a barrister, you may be content with your practice and have no need for change. On the other hand, you may choose to set up an ABS with a businessperson to leverage experience in the commercial world and reap the marketing and managerial benefits of the arrangement. In any event, you may opt to collaborate with an existing ABS such as ShenSmith Law and receive instructions in a clear and concise format, with fees agreed and paid in advance wherever possible. 

An ABS can operate as a fully operational business solution, which can be co-owned by and employ non-authorised persons to conduct administration, marketing and other burdens that impact upon your time. This will leave you free to practise law and benefit from the potential growth from the business endeavours. We also plan to adopt BARCO for larger, more complex cases, to allow ShenSmith Law to facilitate ongoing fees and disbursements, while maintaining compliance with rule C73 of the BSB Handbook.

In many ways, the ABS can bring to the benefit of the client all that a traditional law firm/chambers relationship has to offer, but with the same cost-effective benefits of direct access - all the while giving clients full confidence of knowing where every penny has been spent, and, most importantly, that duplication of costs is kept to an absolute minimum. The ABS may also seek to rely on third party providers such as PX Paralegal for additional support. 

We are excited to be part of the new Licensed Body initiative and firmly believe that the business/barrister collaboration will play an important role in the growth of the Bar for many years to come. 

Daniel ShenSmith, Co-Founder ShenSmith Barristers/ShenSmith Law