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Modernising the business of the bar, a clerk’s perspective

Featured ArticleModernising the business of the bar, a clerk’s perspective

The barrister’s profession has a long history of tradition and stability. Barristers were officially recognised as “men” learned in the law for the first time by a parliament statute of 1532 but it was not until 1590 that being called to the bar of an Inn of Court was established as the minimum necessary qualification. It was not until 1919 and the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act that women were allowed to enter certain professions and thus become barristers. The first woman called to the Bar was Ivy Williams in 1922. For centuries, the practice of law remained relatively unchanged, relying on precedents, face-to-face interactions, and heaps of paperwork.

However, the world is evolving rapidly, and the profession must keep pace with the modern era. In this article, I explore the reasons why our great profession must embrace modernisation.

One of the most compelling reasons for modernisation at the bar is increased efficiency. Traditional chambers, often involve manual systems and processes, which can be time-consuming and costly. By adopting modern technology, chambers can automate routine tasks, and streamline case management. This not only saves time but also reduces operational costs (chambers rent), making legal services more accessible to a wider range of clients if the savings are passed on.

The bars’ established traditional model has often been perceived as exclusive and expensive. Modernisation can break down these barriers to access to our profession. Virtual hearings and consultations, online document sharing, and digital case management systems can make legal services more readily available to a diverse clientele. This, in turn, helps in promoting equal access to justice and ensuring that legal assistance is not confined to the privileged few.

Modernising chambers and the way barristers work allows for the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data, enabling the clerking and marketing teams to make more informed decisions and therefore reduce marketing spend, or at least target it and ensure best value. By leveraging data analytics, clerking professionals can identify trends, predict outcomes, and better serve our chambers clients. This data-driven approach can also help chambers to develop more effective growth and recruitment strategies.

Collaboration is and has always been a key aspect of our profession. Modern technology and tools, such as cloud-based platforms, allow barristers to work together seamlessly, even across borders and long distances. This simplifies teamwork, facilitates communication, and ensures that all team members have access to the most up-to-date information. In such a challenging environment of court delays, fixed costs and reduced public spending, collaboration at the bar is essential.

Modernisation of our profession can also have a very positive impact on the environment. The reduction in paper usage, as more documents are digitised, and the reduction in the need for physical travel due to virtual consultations, online hearings and remote work contribute to a smaller carbon footprint. Barristers, clerks and law firms can play a role in sustainability efforts by embracing digital practices. The court service has a long way to go but post COVID, we are at least on the journey.

Clients, whether individuals or businesses, now have higher expectations when it comes to the delivery of legal services. They are accustomed to convenience, speed, and transparency in all aspects of their lives. To remain competitive and meet these evolving client demands, Barristers must modernise to provide services that align with these expectations. The trend to seeking advice outside traditional office hours may well be the biggest challenge for the self-employed barrister who has a choice over when they work and work-life balance is a pressure that counters flexible working to suit the client. How does the bar square this circle with its traditional model of individuals working when it suits them?

Our profession, traditionally characterised by its steadfast adherence to tradition, faces a pressing need for modernisation in the 21st century. Embracing technology, enhancing efficiency, improving accessibility, and adopting data-driven decision-making can help chambers managers decide how best to serve their clients and society as a whole. Moreover, modernisation is not just about staying current; it’s about meeting the evolving needs of a diverse and dynamic world.  Modernisation of the business behind the bar is not a choice in my view, it is a necessity to ensure the future of the bar remains relevant, efficient and accessible to all.

 By Stephen Ward, Business Development Director & Co-Founder of The Barrister Group

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