Barrister & Company Secretary Caroline BuchanChambers of Miss C Buchan
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January, 2012
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Your Flexible Friend
My best friend would work evenings and weekends and referred to himself as a "flexible friend"…. A throw back to the marketing of a certain credit card I believe. In a competitive legal career that I enjoy I have long accepted that I have to be flexible and imaginative in my approach. Anyone who has worked for themselves knows that flexibility and focus and taking care of clients and customers is crucial.
The fairly recent Legal Services Act got a pretty poor reception from many lawyers because it allows for the ownership of legal businesses by non-lawyers so big brands like the Co-operative Group and various insurance companies and banks can offer legal services. This has led to the hue and cry that the quality of legal services will inevitably fall in a world where "Tesco Law" can offer blue and white stripped value legal packages to its customers. I am not aware that Tesco as yet offers legal services but I would happily put my name forward! The idea is really no different in concept to that of insurers using a panel of solicitors' firms to outsource work to at a competitive price. It is part of a general trend of bringing services in-house or of combining services under one umbrella. The question will be whether it is a quality service and therefore whether it achieves value for money for the consumer.   Judging from's own home page survey as to "who should earn more", lawyers rate extremely low in most peoples' minds as deserving of a pay increase so maybe the public will embrace the new way of working and applaud the competitive legal fees. 
I have practiced as a Barrister for number of years and recall that there was a time when Barristers unlike Solicitors were traditionally not allowed to advertise their services but had to find work via the Solicitor who was the middleman, or chase debts some of which were incurred by the Solicitor sitting on the money in their account which was accruing interest. Thankfully now that has changed. Barristers like myself, can now offer their services directly to the public under the Bar Council's direct public access scheme or work in-house and can pursue their debts in the normal way. This is all great but what it signifies is that the Bar has long begun to recognise that it has to run itself in an even more approachable and businesslike manner while it retains something of its traditional appearance that seems to give clients a degree of reassurance that we treat all matters with sufficient gravitas. 
It is time for many of us to jettison the old ways of working, relating and responding and move into the 21st Century. The turmoil of the economic situation has since 2008 produced a golden opportunity to specialise, improve, innovate and offer alternative services. Flexibility and focus are the keys. It's all a matter of adjusting how you think particularly where your old ways of thinking or acting are working against you or your business. If clients want to use cloud computing or have conferences on Skype so be it.  
Traditionally it was and since the recession maybe still is quite strongly the case that you put up and shut up in the work place if you feel there is a problem because you do not want to lose your job. More and more I am hearing from people that they are in untenable situations within their workplaces and not enjoying their jobs anymore. The pressure put on individuals by organisations desperate to survive the credit crunch is often too much to bear not just economically but personally in terms of low morale and an absence of incentives but worse must be when individual managers in organisations bring inappropriate pressure to bear whether by setting unrealistic targets, creating an atmosphere of stress or failing to support those who look to them for leadership and guidance.   I had the interesting task of advising one friend whether or not to say something more to his manager on the basis that he should be supported in his job role and not undermined. I've always believed that like Dr Seuss, we should all be able to "be who we are and say what we feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" and I felt genuinely torn between knowing it should be the correct thing to do to speak up again but also worrying in case he lost his job as a result. My initial advice was to temper his words with honey not vinegar but my better advice was to perhaps consider using his immeasurable skills for himself and to put all that energy and enthusiasm into his own projects before he became demoralised any further by an unimaginative and ungracious employer. 
The Co-operative Legal Services' financials show that revenues jumped by 22% in 2011 boding well for its entrance into the legal market place with its Alternative Business Structure if it is granted a licence. Maybe there's something to be said for being courageous and novel. 
The customer may not always be right but you can help them by giving practical advice that helps to find a solution to their problem. My feeling is that I am bound both professionally and by my own moral compass to give a good service to a client whatever the fee but I will not shy away from pointing out that some think little of paying charge out rates for plumbers and electricians before they even start work but will haggle with lawyers many of whom work in sectors that have been hard hit by the recession and changes to legal practice and have not seen an increase in their fees for some time.       
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