Selling the skills of the star silks

Chambers have reluctantly accepted the value of marketing, but how best to do it remains a mystery to most barristers.

When it comes to marketing barristers' chambers what solicitor can resist a stack of glossy brochures, a couple of cold calls and the odd glass of warm Chardonnay?

Surprisingly enough, quite a few. The Bar's advertising and marketing skills have traditionally been comparable to those of Her Majesty's Secret Service. But in the last few years, increased competition for work has led to a "grudging acceptance" of the need for marketing, according to a seminar on marketing for chambers held by The Lawyer earlier this month.

Paul Shrubsall, the senior clerk at One Essex Court, told the gathering of more than 100 practice managers, clerks and barristers that marketing chambers had proved more difficult than for the other professions because of the Bar's unusual traditions and structure. Exactly what do you market? Your star silks, or the set to which they belong?

Clifford Chance's contentious business managing partner, Chris Perrin, said that the emphasis should not be on the marketing of chambers but on the "marketing of barristers".

But the barristers themselves were not so sure. As head of chambers at Fountain Court, Peter Scott QC, has pointed out, chambers are increasingly taking on a corporate approach and identity.

Shrubsall favoured a mixed approach to marketing with individual barristers pushing their skills under the chambers banner. He said that chambers should deploy a variety of tactics such as getting tenants to write articles, producing brochures, launching Web sites and holding social functions.

"Marketing has to be constant, day in, day out," he said. "Work is not going to pour through the door just because chambers has held a cocktail party. Barristers must be prepared to invest time and money in marketing."

Joanna Poulton, the practice director at 9 Gough Square, said that reluctance by chambers to follow the lead of law firms by spending an average 2.5 per cent of their turnover on marketing was a major stumbling block.

"Whoever heard of a chambers with a turnover of £2m having a marketing budget of £60,000?" she asked.

There was, however, widespread agreement that the poaching of tenants as a recruitment strategy would continue to increase as chambers competed to build teams with a strong and marketable identity.

But Perrin, speaking as a potential client, warned that chambers had to get the essentials right and cautioned sets against cold calling, flooding firms with brochures and holding too many seminars. He wanted short lucid curricula vitae and simple considerations such as a willingness to hold the odd client conference outside chambers.

"There is no better way of getting more work than doing one bit of work very well indeed," he added.

The speakers agreed that such a marketing policy was stating the obvious. But then the obvious has not always been a state of mind for some at the Bar.