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Innovating the Bar: barrister insight from Thomson Reuters

Victor Hugo, he of Les Misérables fame, once expressed the view that:

“There is only one thing stronger than all the armies of the world: and that is an idea whose time has come.”

As a supposed member of Generation Y (I am loath to use the term “millennials”) I have come through the age of the cassette tape to MP3s and video-on-demand. I have grown as technology has developed; therefore its use seems to me to be obvious and necessary. This is especially true in the professional sphere, where the changing landscape in technology and the way in which services are provided dictates the need to innovate.

With this in mind, I was interested to read Innovating the Bar, a new Thomson Reuters newsletter focusing on innovation relevant to all areas of practice at the Bar.

In the first edition, notable contributors include Daniel ShenSmith at ShenSmith Law, who considers how to innovate to grow a successful practice. Robert Bryan at Drystone Chambers discusses the digitisation of the courts. David Allen and Daniel Batchelor at CityLeads examine how technology can enable the Bar, specifically the use of social media such as LinkedIn. Orlagh Kelly, barrister and founder of Briefed, advises on data protection.

Growing a successful Bar practice

In Innovate to create and grow a successful practice at the Bar, Daniel ShenSmith argues that if you passionately engage with the client’s needs and interests, it will be rare to lose an instruction. In his opinion, injecting passion into every aspect of your practice will assist in ensuring the success of your business or venture. It is not enough to reserve your persuasive skills to the courtroom; you must persuade clients to buy your services. It is therefore necessary to forge collaborations with those that can help you to thrive.

Daniel gives the example of direct access: some chambers encourage direct access and provide adequate support, but it is not a priority for others. For those practitioners in chambers where direct access is not actively promoted, other innovative services should be explored, such as marketing, accounting, digital services and administration.

Bar Standards Board (BSB) Licensed Bodies are amongst the latest Bar innovations. Following the increased client uptake of indirect access services, BSB Licensed Bodies could focus on the provision of cost-effective solutions to make direct access easier. As Daniel opines, these new entities allow business and legal minds to create a “best of both worlds” solution for clients and to truly innovate the industry.

Digitisation of the courts

Following Briggs LJ’s final report and recommendations on the reform of the civil courts, readers will be familiar with the concept of the online court. However, litigation practitioners are already adapting to a variety of computer technology which can make life on circuit much easier.

In Digitisation of the courts: where to start? Robert Bryan observes that, “Practitioners are increasingly travelling light, arriving at Court with a backpack rather than trolleys and suitcases.” Practitioners should take advantage of the more widespread provision of multiple computer screens and public Wi-Fi, in addition to using tablets, e-books and paperless trials. In Robert’s words: “My preparation of documents for Court has been revolutionised and many hours have been saved in even the short while I’ve been working this way.”

Certainly these appear to be simple ways in which technology can enable the Bar to work yet more efficiently.

Technology enabling the Bar

David Allen and Daniel Batchelor, in Technology enabling the Bar, state that businesses use technology for two main reasons:

  • To save time by making them more efficient.
  • To generate more revenue by enhancing customer relationships and developing new business.

They argue that barristers’ practices are now nearly identical to many other businesses and, in the context of direct access, can use technology to their advantage. Where 52% of businesses are looking for alternative sources to traditional law firms, barristers can exploit this gap in the market.

In particular, David and Daniel encourage clever use of social media. They identify LinkedIn, a “connection app” with over 20 million active users in the UK. It can be used to develop new business by combining video, blogging, content sharing, social selling and so on. It is important that barristers know how to target their customers and sell their services, as the traditional model (instruction from a solicitor) is a “rapidly shrinking market”. Direct access requires barristers to build relationships directly with businesses. David and Daniel therefore advise barristers to:

  • Identify prospects.
  • Get in front of those prospects.
  • Build a relationship and trust.
  • Discover their problems and how to fix them.
  • Sell your service as the solution.

Ultimately, the fundamentals of business remain unchanged, but David and Daniel conclude that:

“Effectively using technology, combined with traditional business acumen is the best way to grow and sustain a thriving practice, ignoring it could prove disastrous.”

Risk management

Whilst technology undoubtedly has benefits, users in practice should exercise a degree of caution. Orlagh Kelly in UK barrister fined by ICO is luckiest barrister in Europe, relates the details of a barrister who was fined £1,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) when information belonging to up to 250 people was uploaded to the internet when her husband updated software on their home computer. The documents could then be accessed via a simple search carried out online.

Orlagh advises that barristers must understand the risks associated with data protection:

“If your clients, particularly if you’re briefed by government bodies, banks, or insurance companies, find out you’ve failed with your information security, they will absolutely refuse to brief you. And your career as you know it may well be over.”

As barristers are responsible for looking after “some of the most highly sensitive information”, Orlagh offers three top tips to achieve data protection compliance:

  • Carry out an annual risk audit.
  • Complete regular data protection training.
  • Have appropriate data protection policies in place (a chambers-wide policy is not sufficient).


Peter Drucker, once dubbed by Forbes magazine as “the founder of modern management”, argued:

“The enterprise that does not innovate ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present, the decline will be fast.”

There are clearly areas of technological advance that barristers should celebrate and explore in order to sustain and grow their practices. Certainly, they must also take care to avoid the pitfalls. As always, we are at hand to keep readers up to date with the latest insight and developments.

If you have any comments or would like to be featured in forthcoming issues of our new newsletter, please contact Alice de Courcy at

Practical Law Dispute Resolution Jack Meek

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