Richmond Chambers LLP is an award-winning, innovative partnership of specialist immigration barristers. Authorised by the SRA as the first barrister-only ABS in July 2013, our members share a core commitment to providing high quality immigration law advice and representation directly to the public.
Following the introduction of the public access scheme for immigration work in April 2010, we witnessed an increasing demand for immigration law advice and representation directly from a barrister. However, we were also aware of the weaknesses of the traditional chambers model insofar as direct access work was concerned.
As barristers in independent practice, we were limited by our own capacity. We lacked the technical and administrative capability to effectively deliver legal advice and representation to more than a few clients at any one time.
Having put an appropriate business structure in place, our thoughts therefore quickly turned to technology as a way of delivering improved efficiencies. We wanted to explore how the internet could improve our administration and marketing, drive up standards of client care, enable our barristers to collaborate more effectively with both clients and paralegals and operate a paperless chambers. And, we wanted to achieve all of this as cost-effectively as possible.
Eighteen months on, we have effectively redefined the clerks’ room, replacing its administrative function with a suite of low-cost, cloud-based case and financial management systems and its marketing function with multiple websites, blogs and social media channels, all of which can be managed and updated by our barristers themselves.
All members of chambers are provided with a notebook, wireless keyboard, wireless mouse and a second monitor for split screen working. Chambers is fully networked, ensuring that all team members have access to both a high speed internet connection and the capability to print directly from, and scan directly to, their PC. Individual members also have access to a range of mobile devices that facilitate remote working.
We realised early on that effective case management would be key to running a successful direct access practice. However, we also found that many of the case management systems marketed by the traditional suppliers of legal technology were either too cumbersome or too expensive, or both.
We have opted instead for a modern cloud-based solution that works both as a contact management or CRM tool and also as a project management application, incorporating a host of features to manage our clients’ cases, including integration with Google Apps. It is both cost-effective and flexible, with unlimited possibilities in terms of customisation.
Enquiries from new clients are now added to our cloud-based case management system by our paralegals and then allocated to our barristers electronically. The barristers receive an email notification for each new enquiry and, being internet-based, they can then access the system either from within chambers or across the full range of mobile devices.
Having our case management system online means that our barristers are able to respond to new enquiries promptly, even when at court or outside business hours.
The internet has also allowed us to streamline our client inception process. New instructions are booked into chambers by our barristers using a variety of online forms that we have designed using a free web application, whilst client engagement letters are then delivered, signed and returned electronically.
All client files and documents are stored, accessed and updated securely online. Again, since the system is internet-based, it can be accessed anywhere, at any time, via either an internet browser or mobile app, providing all members of the team with constant one-click access to all of their clients’ files.
Team members are able to effectively collaborate on client matters and with all files stored online, we have no need for expansive premises or off-site storage facilities.
The same cloud-based system also allows us to capture, report and measure key performance indicators. And, because it is fully customisable, we can continually make changes as our reporting requirements evolve. The system has also helped us to reduce the risk of non-compliance by translating our risk management policy into actionable items which we can then monitor and track. It will help us to demonstrate compliance, if required to do so, or alert us should any non-compliance arise.
In terms of financial management, we rely on the internet to streamline our bill to cash processes. Invoices are created, despatched and accessed by clients using cloud-based accounting software that is designed specifically for small client-service businesses that get paid for their time and expertise. The system allows clients to then settle their invoices online via a credit card merchant account. Expenses are tracked within the same system and, once all the data has been uploaded, we are able to automatically generate a range of reports that allow us to continually manage positive cash-flow.
Advice and representation
The internet has also changed the way in which we advise and represent our clients. All legal research is conducted online and we use a free web-based application to create, edit and store all legal documents that we create. These are then securely shared, so that our clients can access, review and, where appropriate, even collaborate on them from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection and web browser. With most clients now accustomed to undertaking activities online, we have found that this has been a useful way of furthering client engagement.
Alongside this, we utilise a file hosting service which offers cloud storage and file synchronisation capabilities. Rather than storing original client documents in chambers, all documents are scanned and then returned to the client. Electronic copies are then hosted in secure online files. The files are accessible via a folder on a PC, or through a dedicated website and mobile app.
The internet has also fundamentally shaped the way in which we communicate. Our internet telephony service provider allows digital telecommunications with clients based on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provisioned via the internet.
Conferences are routinely conducted via telecommunications application software which allows video and voice calls from computers, tablets and mobile devices via the internet to other devices.
Faxes are sent and received via an internet fax service, allowing transmission of documents in digital format rather than via a traditional paper fax machine and members of the team keep in contact with each other using desktop and mobile chat applications.
Through continued investment in our website, blog and social media channels we are able to market our practice online and provide useful immigration law and practice intelligence to a significantly wider and more targeted audience than we would otherwise be able to through traditional offline channels. Our main website attracts over 5,000 unique visitors each month and over 12,000 page views.
We also have a Mandarin language website. Designed specifically for the Chinese market, the site is hosted in Hong Kong and optimised for Baidu rather than Google. Our main Twitter account has a small but engaged niche audience of those interested in UK immigration updates, with almost 800 followers to date and this, together with our other social channels, including Linkedin, Google+ and Facebook, continue to encourage people to visit our website and connect with us directly for specialist advice.
Perhaps the most innovative step that we have taken to date in order to stimulate and sustain client demand has been to invite client feedback to be published online on independent review sites, all of which are signposted from our home page and in email signatures. There is no possibility of editing the feedback and so even the most unfair or negative comments would remain visible. In doing so, we have made ourselves accountable to the public and this, in turn, has exerted the right kind of pressure on our team. We currently have 45 5-star reviews on our Google+ Local page, another 54 on Review Centre and more elsewhere, so potential clients can see the work that we do.
Overall we are pleased with the opportunities that the internet has brought to Richmond Chambers. It would be going too far to say that we would not have been able to establish ourselves without it, but the internet, and technology more generally, has certainly contributed to the commercial success that we have enjoyed to date. And, given the significant pace of developments online, we look forward to adapting and fine-tuning our online administration and marketing systems in the coming years.