When a solicitor friend heard I was taking up the job of director of marketing at 5 Fountain Court he said: “It will be like trying to steer the QE2 in iceberg-infested seas, with 68 people at the helm, all having very strong and conflicting views about where to go.” “And,” he added, “the rudders are jammed…”
Accountants and solicitors hire specialists to perform tasks they know they cannot master quickly – typically finance and marketing.
What about the Bar? Barristers are still not dealing with the administrative chores which can be routine for their accountant and solicitor colleagues – the clerks do it for them.
And they have been slower to employ outside specialists.
But the trend is gaining momentum and it is not difficult to see why. Barristers are used to having people do things for them – arrange court appearances, negotiate and agree fees, chase payments for example.
Hiring a marketing or management specialist, therefore, comes more easily to barristers than most of them think.
However, there are two issues which can prevent this foray into unchartered management territory being a success.
The first is the perception that the recruit's role is indistinct from that of the clerks. Marketing is still a dirty word for some barristers.
A lot of chambers try to solve the problem by window-dressing and they appoint a 'practice development manager'. The result of this half-hearted approach is that the employee's perception of his role quickly diverges from that of his employers. It will also collide with the role of the clerk who will see the newcomer as a competitor.
That potential problem has been dealt with at 5 Fountain Court by ensuring everyone understands my role, that they are not afraid of the word 'marketing' and know where the dividing line between my function and that of the clerks is.
The senior clerk and I understand what each other's functions in chambers are and meet as often as possible to compare notes on progress.
The second major issue is that of enthusiastic amateurs. While barristers would not dream of interfering with the clerking, they can get involved in other areas not strictly within their remit simply because it concerns their practice and they feel strongly about them.
As most of their time is devoted to their core activity – advocacy and the provision of highly specialised legal advice – partners can only 'dabble'.
Once more, one of the solutions to this potential problem we use at this set is to have firm dividing lines and detailed job descriptions for the various specialists. Fuzzy job delimitation makes for poor management and inefficiency.
The new model for the efficient and successful organisation is the lean, fast and versatile enterprise.
A barristers' chambers is just that. With the help of today's technology, a barristers' chambers ought to be the blueprint for efficient management.
It is a model of the much hailed 'virtual office', where individuals use a central base in a similar fashion to a computer network using a central server: the barristers are the PCs and the clerks' room is the server.
The result is speed and versatility, without losing any originality and individualism. In one swoop, barristers could catch up with the most progressive firms of accountants and solicitors and find themselves at the leading edge of management efficiency.
This is certainly an objective worth striving for because our existence depends on it. The water is too cold and there are not enough life rafts. I am staying aboard the QE2.