Law: Raising a few eyebrows at the Bar: A female American lawyer as director of chambers? Sharon Wallach meets Andrea Kennedy

Sharon Wallach
Thursday 19 May 1994 23:02

The majority of barristers have yet to discover the advantages of marketing their services. The Bar's restrictions on advertising have been lifted for some time, but attempts by individual sets of chambers to enter the market- place are still met with raised eyebrows in some circles.

There are exceptions, such as Barnards Inn Chambers, which opened for business last December. Most of its 10 barristers split from an established set at 4 New Square, believing that a modern approach to the Bar was needed.

One of their first moves was to appoint Andrea Kennedy - an American lawyer - as director of chambers. Her approach is indeed modern, even revolutionary. Part of her method is to visit solicitor clients to learn about their businesses and find out what they need from a barrister.

Ms Kennedy qualified at the Californian Bar, and came to the UK where she met and married an Englishman. She tried to find work with one of the US law firms in England, but at that time they were small and not hiring. So she took a job at McKenna & Co as a paralegal, eventually undertaking fee-earning work, although she never requalified in this country.

She moved to Freshfields as a litigation professional support lawyer, and then became head of information services at Masons. At Freshfields she also organised training, a role that developed into a marketing programme.

When she took the job at Barnards Inn, colleagues told her she would have a difficult time ahead. Barristers, they said, cannot market themselves because they are not team players. If they were, they would have become solicitors. But, says Ms Kennedy, most solicitors lack a sense of fraternity. 'Many firms are made up of cottage industries that all happen to be under the same roof.'

Ms Kennedy describes herself as a one-person market research centre. 'I scan the legal journals and law pages, talk to people to try and get an idea of the market, and to find out who is being instructed,' she says. 'I look at our client base to see the sort of work we are doing, try and determine how frequently any particular type of work is coming in and look for gaps where we can encourage more or higher quality work.

'Also, I felt that the only way to really know whether we are serving the needs of the clients was to speak to them face to face, learn more about their firms and how best to serve them.'

This approach no doubt came as something of a novelty to solicitors. As she puts it: 'They are gob- smacked. But they know darned well that I'm there to sell our services as well as learning more about them. I have caught myself sounding like a used-car salesman, but usually they appreciate my candour.'

The fact that she is American and a lawyer works in her favour, allowing her to be more aggressive in her approach to marketing her barristers. The one helps her cut through any social awkwardness and the other gives her professional credibility.

She concentrates on established clients to consolidate and build on their relationship. She rarely 'cold calls', as this type of approach is generally less effective. When it does lead to an invitation to visit, it is appreciated, she says, particularly by provincial firms. 'They can feel that London counsel are aloof, and do not take them seriously as major players.'

Personal visits are also helpful to firms involved in legal aid franchising, which have to build up a list of tried and tested counsel. Ms Kennedy describes a recent visit to a provincial firm which, for this reason, welcomed the opportunity to question her about the Barnards Inn barristers and voice their concerns. In turn, this helps her to recognise weaknesses at the Bar.

Another part of her job is to sit in at court and comment on the barristers' ability as advocates. They are, perhaps surprisingly, prepared to listen to her views. 'They know that they're not paying my salary to be a yes person,' she says. 'I do try to give constructive criticism, and I also encourage our instructing solicitors to do the same, because we want to attract new business and keep old business.'

Monthly brainstorming sessions are also on the agenda. These may involve Ms Kennedy discussing firms she has visited, passing on both positive and negative comments. Perceived trends can be addressed with a booklet or a seminar. The sessions have already led to the production of a property bulletin and a quarterly personal injury newsflash.

'Whether these will get us work is impossible to predict, but they will raise our profile so that people will no longer ask who we are,' Ms Kennedy says. She has also introduced a contact sheet, to be completed by the barristers after attending events such as seminars and cocktail parties. The information on who they met, in what context, and whether sending a brochure would be worthwhile is fed into the chambers database, in itself a minor revolution.

An obstacle to be surmounted is the loyalty that tends to exist between solicitor and barrister. 'The relationship is intense in many ways, and difficult to disrupt,' she says. 'We have to offer a competitive advantage. The Bar is full of very good barristers, so we have to set ourselves apart.'

Ms Kennedy - who admits to never having read a book on the subject - believes that marketing is just common sense. 'It is a matter of keeping your ears open and being sensitive to what's out there. But if someone doesn't have it in them, all the training manuals and skills courses in the world won't provide it.

'Some of our barristers are not good at marketing. I tell them that their job is to be the best lawyer possible. My job is to draw attention to their good work. Some solicitors are losing sight of the fact that the best recipe for success is to stick to what they do best, that is being a good lawyer.'

Not only does she have a knack for marketing, she also thoroughly enjoys her job. The barristers are a 'very nice group' whose sense of fraternity was unexpected.

'I had my own prejudices as to how I saw barristers,' Ms Kennedy admits. 'I thought they were aloof, snobbish, out of touch with the real world. But that is not the case in my set, and I am starting to meet more and more barristers who don't fit that description.'

(Photograph omitted)

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