BarristerWeb was the first virtual chambers, having started around 7 years ago. They describe themselves as a “traditional chambers at internet speed”; they do just about everything which a traditional chambers does, but without a large physical presence. They have a small office for the Chambers Director, Neil Goodman-Smith, the Senior Clerk Andrew Hutchins and the clerking team in Milton Keynes and “buy in” other space, and conference or meeting rooms, as needed, without incurring the ongoing expense of having barristers all in one place, requiring permanent ownership or renting. There is another facility for conferences and meetings in London, opposite the Old Bailey and a third in Warrington, by arrangement with Warrington Chambers.
There are around 80 barristers in the chambers, whose head of chambers is Tim Wallis. Around 25 of these barristers are full time and the others are sole practitioners or people who are also tenants of other chambers.
As Neil Goodman-Smith says, there are many different sorts of tenancy these days and the charging structure of BarristerWeb (of which more in a moment) is designed to allow maximum flexibility for the barristers, encouraging part timers and people with specialisms to make the most of their expertise by being part of BarristerWeb without losing out on other arrangements they may already have in place. They work in specialist teams where appropriate and cover most types of work. They are also active in Direct Access work. This manner of working can be very suitable for barristers with family commitments or carrying out other non-legal professional activities, law lecturers or barristers with part time judicial work.
Members have to be more than three years call unless they are also part of a traditional chambers where mentoring can take place.
Apart from a small annual software licence charge (£117 a year) there are no fixed costs to the barristers in being a member of BarristerWeb. Full tenants pay 12.5% of their fees as commission and door tenants (part timers) pay 15% with tapering rates for high earners.
IT and software
BarristerWeb Chambers use the InQuisita chambers management system InQuisita. InQuisita has only a small part of the Bar software market (around 40 chambers) but has nevertheless established itself with a very good reputation. The software has been designed for online use from the beginning and can be accessed by all barristers (subject to passwords of course) from any PC or notebook computer, anywhere in the world, just using Internet Explorer or other browser software. The system and servers are maintained by BarristerWeb at Milton Keynes.
According to Andrew Hitchins, the software is very easy to use and understand, and barristers are soon using their diaries, entering appointments or bookings, accessing case notes or outstanding fee reports with ease. Where needed, assistance and support is given by the clerking team.
Emails, fax, e-fax, documents and text messages are all distributed to barristers in the most appropriate way. The use of e-fax (whereby it is possible to email a fax directly to a barrister without having to print it out in between) is encouraged.
BarristerWeb does not provide legal research facilities for its members, having come to the conclusion that the needs of its barristers were too disparate and uneven to make good sense with the very high subscription rates charged by the legal publishers. However, they do require barristers to have other means of accessing these services, through libraries, universities or personal subscription.
BarristerWeb projects its chambers by advertising and promotion generally but ultimately, their position is that Barristers are responsible for their own marketing and for getting their own work. As they say, barristers cannot join for virtually no cost and then expect work to be found for them. Having said that, BarristerWeb is continuing to develop contacts with firms of solicitors so that the firms channel work to them.
Head of Chambers
Head of Chambers is Tim Wallis who specialises in taxation, trusts, wills and general estate planning. He does a lot of work under the Direct Access arrangements, which he sees as fitting very well with the way a virtual chambers works. Indeed, he thinks that the inevitable (although so far slow) expansion of work done under this scheme will provide a natural boost to virtual chambers; clients (and barristers) can be anywhere and fees can be kept relatively low.
He said that BarristerWeb has increased by three or four times in the 5 years he has been Head of chambers and he expects this trend to continue, as barristers look for different types of working arrangements, and clients continue to look for lower fees without loss of quality.
Delia Venables is a writer on IT topics for lawyers and joint editor of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.