Virtual chambers – the model for the future?

In the traditional model of a chambers, individual barristers cluster together to share premises, staff and administrative services. With the maturity of the internet, however, and particularly with the advent of cheap and easy broadband, barristers do not have to be physically close to each other in order to share staff and admin. In many cases, they would in any case prefer to work at home, or whilst in court or travelling, or even on holiday. The need for a special room filled with hard copy resources and littered with case notes of present and past cases is, in many cases, no longer such an attraction.

The need to pay for this special room in a prime legal location is certainly not very attractive, although the presence of other members with whom cases can be discussed and from whom advice can be sought, as well as the availability of friendly clerks to harass (or be harassed by), still is an attraction.

A number of different models of virtual chambers – or partly virtual chambers – are beginning to emerge, and with the Bar Council being a lot more flexible these days in defining exactly what a chambers needs to be, other models of virtual, or partly virtual, chambers will doubtless appear over the next year or two.

It is worth noting that a traditional chambers can also expand its members beyond its physical location if it has good web-based software and if it accepts a certain amount of desk sharing; I would also expect “creeping virtualisation” to become common over the next few years.

In the July/August issue, we carried an “online extra” on one virtual chambers, Clerksroom, and in the current issue we do the same for another, BarristerWeb. These two virtual chambers vary in size, charging methods, style of support, marketing methods, library facilities and in many other ways, but what they share is the ability to provide barristers with all the support they need (apart from the chocolate biscuits) from a location far away from where the barrister lives and works and indeed far away from the physical centres of legal activity.

These two articles on virtual chambers also appear in the new e-book and CPD course Legal Web 2007/2008: Topics for Barristers, published jointly by Nick Holmes and myself.