Many solicitors still perceive the Bar as being a long way from providing an efficient, business-like or even courteous service. But with the changing economic climate, survival and growth is guaranteed only for those sets that are client-led and focused.
Solicitors are simply demanding value for money and business professionalism. If the Bar continues to ignore its clients' needs then surely its entire future is in doubt.
Chambers must re-think their internal structures. They need to introduce modern organisational techniques while preserving the cherished traditions of the Bar. The role of the clerk should not be lost or downgraded, as was recently feared by the Institute of Barristers Clerks.
Let clerks act as "super-clerks" on the day-to-day organisation of the set and let chambers bring in expertise to develop the business.
The appointment of practice managers or directors to have overall strategic responsibility for running chambers has become a popular way of maximising the potential of sets. But only a minority of chambers have appointed practice managers or directors – the proportion stood at about 12 per cent in 1996. However, this figure is more than double what it was five years ago and the trend seems set to continue. Meanwhile, some sets are choosing to use consultants, while others have decided to retain more traditional management practices and have set up internal committees to implement change.
For any change in chambers' structure to work, it must be founded on a thorough understanding of the Bar, its peculiar world and the legal profession generally. But the real commitment to managing change must come from the Bar itself.
Victoria Thompson is head of Bar practice management and marketing consultancy Victoria Thompson Associates.