The Bar is facing a challenging time and is in a period of flux. There are more barristers than there is work, the needs of clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated and with competition comes ever more pressure on fees. Increasingly the Bar is recognising that it is necessary to take a more professional and proactive approach to obtaining and maintaining market share, but many chambers are struggling to reconcile the future with the history and traditional methods of work at the Bar. The role of business development manager varies in type and content from chambers to chambers and often goes by way of different titles. Not only are chambers themselves hugely varied, but they have different approaches to the division of chief executive, business development and marketing functions within their business.
Chambers advertise for a variety of backgrounds when looking for business development managers. Many express a preference for professional marketers. There is a great deal to be said for having a former practising solicitor in the role however, even if the chambers has not realised this prior to receiving an application from such a candidate. For the most part the primary client market for the Bar continues to be solicitors firms. A former solicitor is well placed to understand what client firms want from Counsel. Further, when it comes to the client facing side of the role, solicitors in practice relate well to someone who shares their background and understands their concerns and priorities.
As a job the role of business development manager is extremely varied. The priority is to generate new business from existing clients, but also to identify and source new client opportunities. On the one hand it is crucial to the functioning and development of chambers and will involve working with the head of chambers and senior clerk at the highest strategic level. A business development manager will be expected to understand the needs of not only the chambers but also the individual practices of the many barristers who make up the whole and work to develop and promote them at all levels. On the other hand, most chambers have very limited administrative resources. It can be a shock to move from being a fee earner in a City firm to organising parties and lectures, producing handouts and briefings and doing your own photocopying and stapling.
A candidate has to have an excellent business brain to understand an unusual market on both a macro and micro level. Self motivation is key because chambers usually cannot offer a strong management structure and objectives can be unclear. Personal skills are essential because barristers can be a curious breed, overflowing with opinions that differ hugely from one another. Within chambers all the individuals are driven by the requirements of their own practice and tend to see the needs of the chambers as a whole through this prism; accordingly diplomacy and the ability to be firm are key. The same skills are necessary to develop a working relationship and division of responsibility with the clerks’ room. Externally a business development manager needs to balance charm and gravitas: an ambassador for a respected organisation who needs to be able to work well with partners of client firms. Organisation and a willingness to muck in with the menial are also crucial, but the upside is being a key player in developing and growing a multi million pound business.