Barristers face a number of issues and challenges in their work these days, such as differentiating themselves from others in the field, developing direct access, dealing with client expectations, new technology, and cuts to legal aid.
These are some of the biggest challenges facing barristers right now:
Technology has improved life in so many ways, and makes many aspects of our work and personal lives easier. However, it has also created issues for barristers by raising clients’ expectations. Having constant internet access means that clients are empowered and able to access legal information for themselves. They expect their barristers to be proactive in finding solutions to problems, and relationships between barristers and clients can suffer as a result of these expectations. It’s now likely that clients will have done their own research before meeting their barrister, and barristers must spend time educating their clients and going through any incorrect or unreliable information they might have found through their own research.
Differentiating yourself from others
Newly-qualified barristers face a big challenge in differentiating themselves from others in their field. It is important to discover and develop traits that will help you stand out from your peers. One way to do this is to embrace new technology and use it to your advantage. Another option is to qualify to practice in another country, which will enable you to offer a wider range of services to your clients and enhance your professional profile.
Cuts to legal aid
Legal aid cuts have put added pressure on barristers and have substantially reduced the amount of work available. Many litigants are either representing themselves or giving up on the courts completely. For newly-qualified barristers this means they are no longer able to take on as many lower-value, less-complex cases to develop their skills. The cuts have also put pressure on smaller high-street firms, making it more difficult for them to survive and compete with larger, wealthier firms.
Developing direct access
Direct access was introduced in 2004, and although take-up was slow initially, it has developed significantly in recent years. It presents a number of challenges to barristers, including the administrative burden which can fall on them and their clerks. This is much more of an issue with direct access than in the traditional solicitor/barrister model, as card payments must be processed, proof of ID must be recorded, and client care letters must be sent. Prospective clients can also take up a great deal of time, without always converting into paid work.
Use of technology
Technology can make barristers’ chambers more efficient and cost-effective. It has allowed many to automate certain processes, which is particularly useful in the more paper-intensive areas. The issue barristers now face however, is that this means that more functions can be performed by computers rather than trainees. Barristers also face the challenge of ensuring their focus remains on their clients and developing strong relationships with them – something which they cannot simply leave up to technology.