What is the best way for barristers to market themselves? Now that’s a big question! And there is no simple nor single answer. And barrister marketing is somewhat different to solicitor marketing. However, I will try to provide a succinct response and you will have to seek out guidance on the specific points elsewhere on this web site and in the Blogs section.
Decide what you want to achieve
The starting point is to decide what it is that you want to achieve. Set some SMART (Specific Measureable Achievable Realistic and Time Specific) objectives. Often, I am told that the aim is merely to increase the amount of good quality work generated. But I always ask barristers to be a little more specific about this – Exactly what sort of cases? For what sort of clients? From what type of solicitors practices (big nationals, regionals, specialist/niches etc) In what particular areas of law?
A good starting point is to examine your clients, cases and fees for the past three years or so and identify those types of cases that you would like to encourage. Look also at your competitors – you need to find a way to differentiate yourself which might be achieved by focussing on an emerging area of law or need.
Consider your personal strengths and preferences
You don’t have to be an expert in all types of marketing and business development to be successful. Some thrive on researching and publishing detailed technical articles, others enjoy being a social butterfly at networking events, others are more comfortable providing seminars and workshops at a particular client’s premises, some enjoy providing instant opinions to the media, some like to work alone whilst others prefer to hunt in a pack. And some relish the opportunity to get to know people better through lunches and dinners, whilst others prefer not to spend too much time socialising this way.
The key is to decide what feels most comfortable to you and to build a campaign of activities based around this. And this is a critical point – too often barristers will prepare and deliver a single conference paper or seminar and feel disheartened when there is no immediate effect. You need a campaign of activities sustained over a period of time – allocating time to follow up any contacts made and perhaps “recycling” material used at a conference for use in articles or blogs and in a focused contact management programme.
Raise your profile – what do you want to be famous for?
A key to effective marketing is to stand out from the crowd a bit – to be known as an expert in a specific field. There are countless good examples of firms building strong practices by pursuing a niche strategy. Differentiate yourself by selecting a topic or two that no one else is really addressing and build your profile on that basis.
Sometimes it is possible to identify a particular community – based around a professional or trade association or a conference or even a LinkedIn group – that reaches a good many of the people you are targeting. You can then explore ways to strengthen your links with that community by, for example, sponsoring2 and/or networking at events, posting to online discussions and questions or providing content.
You should consider a variety of different promotional approaches – direct and indirect, face to face and on-line, broadcast and interaction – and integrate your efforts across conference papers, inhouse seminars, your web site and articles and blogs and any social media usage. Some sets put on substantial seminar series through a public programme – to which they invite both existing and potential clients. Others have invested in technology and provided valuable information bases online through their web sites or extranets.
Maintain, develop and extend your relationships – a bird in the hand?
Most barristers will have relationships with a number of solicitors and/or clients that they have worked with in the past. However, few will have a system for ensuring that they maintain regular contact with the most important and valuable clients and strengthening those relationships by, for example, offering occasional “intellectual gifts”, arranging to meet up at sector events and inviting to social occasions. Clients value such on-going dialogue and it enables you to remain “top of mind” when they are next selecting suitable counsel.
It is also worth considering whether to have a structured programme of client research to assess client’s perceptions, preferences and satisfaction. These interviews can be undertaken by the clerks, the barristers or external researchers (as I have done) and the findings not only help shape the way in which each relationship might be developed but also what general changes the set needs to undertake to improve all client relationships.
Clients vary in their preference for how barristers should contact them but most appreciate in-house seminars where they can see a selection of barristers present on a topic and get to know them a little better over some refreshments. Solicitors will also appreciate the CPD points earned.
And marketing programmes should ensure that adequate time is devoted to nurturing existing client relationships rather than simply chasing new ones.
Enlist the supports of your clerks and colleagues – part of a team?
Whilst barristers are self-employed and tend to work alone, it is more effective to work as part of a team and spread the load. Once the clerks are clear about what you are trying to achieve and what time you are prepared to devote to business and relationship development, they will be able to identify suitable opportunities for you to make presentations or to meet with clients.
And if you develop a plan with other members of your “team” or practice area you can spread the load on how often you have to present at or attend events or contribute material. Each activity undertaken by a barrister promotes both the barrister and his or her set – and as each barrister can only undertake a limited amount of work, if there are multiple “recognised” experts in your team then you will continue to capture the best clients and cases.
Develop a plan of sustained and regular activity – don’t give up!
Marketing isn’t magic and doesn’t work overnight. It needs sustained effort. So the best way to proceed, having identified the aims and the various options and opportunities, is to craft a plan that includes a realistic programme of activities over an agreed period of time – perhaps allocating tasks across a team. It is then easier to monitor progress and to prompt action at regular intervals.
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As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.