Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
Whilst solicitors' web sites are now very varied and many are becoming genuine sources of income for the firms concerned, the vast majority of chambers' web sites are still boring and "static". Why is this? I think there are several reasons:
i) Most chambers include barristers from a wide variety of disciplines. Thus, it is extremely hard to provide focussed information on any one area of work. Whilst chambers' sites often provide articles on the site, these are generally rather "miscellaneous" in character and are also frequently not very recent.
ii) Most chambers would only authorise a web site if there is a committee decision. The barristers running those committees are likely to be the ones with lots of work already, and are also probably the ones who are less attuned to the internet world. In addition, most barristers are averse to expenditure which is not absolutely essential and most would be unwilling to authorise a budget designed to promote areas of work other than their own.
iii) If a particular barrister is a web enthusiast, he or she is more likely to develop a personal web site which does not require a committee decision and which can lead to personal exposure and benefit.
iv) Whilst the cost of a do-it-yourself website is minimal - and a simple site can even be obtained without any outlay at all except time - the cost of a properly designed and maintained website, even of the "brochure site" variety, using professional website designers (which is essential) is at least a thousand pounds and probably more. Anything requiring major design input, editing skills and frequent updating will cost several thousand pounds, with an ongoing cost as well as the initial outlay.
v) Whilst using a professional web design company is essential, the site will not be genuinely interesting unless there is also a large amount of creative input from the barristers themselves. Most barristers prefer to spend their time developing their own practice rather than the overall chambers.
The main "customers" of barristers are of course solicitors so it is important to consider what it is that they are looking for. Personally, I think that they are unlikely to be surfing the web at random looking for barristers but they will be looking for confirmation of skills they already know about. They want serious and detailed information about the chambers concerned and about the particular barristers. They want to know more than year of call, education and specialism - they want to know about useful cases the barrister has been involved in, articles or publications and any other indication of expertise.
Whilst they would be interested in genuine legal material on the site, they probably obtain this already from other sources and it would not influence them unduly in their choice of a barrister for a particular case.
A good design and a modern look and feel to the site would count in its favour but, in my opinion, they are NOT looking for impressive Flash introductions or large and beautiful pictures of chambers or of the barristers themselves or any other design feature which leads to a slow download. They want to be able to get the information fast, preferably in a form which they can print out easily and put in the file to remind them (later) why they did choose this particular barrister. They are also not looking for interactive material or pages which require them to register in some way - they prefer to visit the site silently and leave no trace.
All this leads me to suggest that for most chambers, a classic "Brochure" site is perfectly adequate. Here are some chambers with (in my opinion) a good brochure site:
Despite my remarks above about the difficulty of providing a focussed web site, here are some of the chambers who have managed to do this!
Hardwicke Building provides an extensive and well presented Property Group Newsletter on the site with news, developments, cases and articles; these are kept well up to date and you can register to receive notification of new issues. There is also an online newsletter on Personal Injury which contains reviews of recent case law.
Doughty Street Chambers includes information on Human Rights topics, including articles and comment on the act, European Convention material, international material and a good set of Human Rights links.
Exchange Chambers in Liverpool provides an online Personal Injury Newsletter, compiled by Bill Braithwaite QC which includes an extensive set of summaries of cases tried and cases settled over the last 2 years.
Field Court Chambers provides a free monthly updating service covering recent case law changes and articles in employment law and you can see this on the site or register to obtain it by email.
Gray's Inn Tax Chambers provides a tax and VAT case reporting service, with online digests of recent tax cases in which members of chambers have appeared. There are also articles and comprehensive tax law links worldwide.
Old Square Chambers provides detailed case notes in employment law, personal injury and medical negligence, environmental law and product liability.
3-4 South Square, Gray's Inn provides a newsletter of case summaries relating to commercial law developments.
Thomas More Chambers provides extensive online newsletters on employment and property law.
It is often easier for an individual barrister to provide an exciting site than a chambers! Here are some good ones.
Neil Addison of Cathedral Chambers in Newcastle has set up a site dedicated to Harassment Law. There are sections on stalking, malicious communications, racial/sexual, at work and anti-social behaviour. There are links to relevant legislation and sources of training and assistance.
John Antell of Godolphin Chambers in Truro provides reports on employment law cases particularly those relating to the employment status of agency workers and contractors. There is also a FAQ section on IR35 topics.
Daniel Barnett of 2 Gray's Inn Chambers is a specialist in employment law and he moderates the employment law mailing list. There is information about how to join this list on the site together with an extensive set of links in employment law and also a list of specialist solicitors.
Elizabeth Birch has combined her personal information with the company she founded, A Commercial Initiative for Dispute Resolution. There is extensive information on arbitration and alternative dispute resolution.
Jacqui Gilliatt provides a series of articles and updates on Family Law as downloadable Word documents.
Brian Harris, Garrett Byrne and Andrew Carne, all of 4-5 Gray's Inn Square, provide a site called Regulatory Law. This brings together legislation, case law and other materials concerning the Law and Practice of Disciplinary and Regulatory Proceedings.
Roger Horne of 11 New Square offers an analysis of copyright issues, some indexes of the House of Lords Judgments, and ideas for the future of law reporting using the web. He has also taken the Civil Procedures Rules and added internal linking to the material. There is also information on XML and the Law (see article on page 9).
Gary Webber of 33 Bedford Row specialises in property law. His site includes substantial papers on possession claims and business lease renewal. He also maintains information on courses (from all course providers) relating to property law and a comprehensive set of property links.
Laurie West-Knights maintains an excellent set of links to legal material on his site. He also has a section of commentary on the Civil Procedures Rules and an ongoing report on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute.
There are very few Irish barristers who have developed a web site, but here are two interesting ones.
Fergus O'Rourke covers the topic of "utmost good faith" (Uberrima Fides) and insurance law generally, in an Irish (and UK) context.
Kieron Wood covers Defamation Law, the Divorce Act (simplified), Divorce Paperwork, Family Law Statutes, Wills and Irish Legal Terminology.
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