Choice encounters

All solicitors will be familiar with the chambers brochure. Often produced at great expense, the best have a page for each member with a photo, the type of work undertaken and some of the member's leading cases.

At the other end of the scale is the pocket version, with a general description of the type of work the chambers undertakes and identifying members by name.

But a brochure is not a way to sell a practice. It is merely part of a marketing strategy. Most solicitors will instruct a previously unknown barrister only by reference to his or her reputation and, certainly in larger firms, on a colleague's recommendation.

Many of the lesser-known barristers I have instructed for the first time have appeared by chance, often because another member dropped out or an extra team member was needed. It is vital for less well-known barristers to seize such chances and to make a good impression.

The way the barrister handles a conference is most important. Clearly, accuracy of advice on the law or the merits of a case are paramount.

If the barrister is an advocate, it is also essential that advocacy in court should be of a high quality, but presentation is often ignored. Barristers must not adopt a condescending attitude to solicitors or clients. Often the Bar fails to appreciate that most solicitors use counsel for their expertise in a particular area of law or skill in advocacy, not because the barrister belongs to a kind of “senior” profession that needs to be consulted about what to do in a particular case.

The image a solicitor needs to convey to a sophisticated client is that of a team in which the skills of solicitor and barrister complement each other to provide a slick and efficient service. This only happens where the roles of each are delineated and neither seeks to usurp the function of the other.

Many clients fail to see the need for a split profession, but when it operates properly the system provides a service unrivalled anywhere in the world.

The clerk's role must also be considered. Traditionally the clerk is a barrister's diary manager, a “fixer” of court appointments and a funnel for work coming into the chambers.

There is no quarrel with the first two of these roles, but the allocation of work has changed.

The growing complexity and internationalisation of business demands specialists in fields that were relatively unknown 20 years ago. Examples include financial regulation, employment, health and safety at work, energy and finance. So the question arises as to whether the traditional clerk's training is sufficiently business-oriented.

The clerk must also understand the conditions solicitors operate in, just as solicitors need to know more about their clients' business.

In an ideal barristers' chambers the person handling relations with solicitors would have spent some time working in a solicitors' practice or a similar role. This would improve the way work is allocated and give the chambers an extra marketing tool.

Some sets have employed a practice manager. They have played an important role in managing and marketing chambers, but their lack of regular contact with solicitors means they are not well placed to liaise effectively.

Another common problem in the relationship between solicitors and chambers is lack of “feedback”. Clerks rarely ask whether a solicitor is happy with the performance of the barrister and chambers.

De-briefing and post-mortem sessions are increasingly common between solicitors and their clients and provide a useful platform for rectifying any problems. Without feedback, the fact that a solicitor has stopped using a barrister or chambers is often overlooked until it is too late.

All these points relate to the more fundamental issues of the relationship between solicitors and barristers. But this is not to dismiss direct marketing. In particular the relationship between barristers and solicitors' firms could be strengthened and improved by increased contact and exchange of ideas – for example, by barristers speaking at solicitors' internal training seminars and solicitors reciprocating. This would give each side a better perspective on the working practices of the other.

But to maintain the trust and confidence needed for a good working relationship, barristers' chambers should first address the problems of image and internal management.

Direct marketing and publicity, while they are important, are very much the icing on the cake.