The New Normal

When I was asked to write an article for the Barrister Magazine back at the beginning of March about new ideas or innovation in my capacity of CEO of Quartz Barristers, the world was a very different place. A distant ‘normal’ and somewhere I do not think we will ever return, and perhaps in some ways, a place we would not want to return to.

We are now experiencing another culture shift coming out of lockdown. However uncertain the immediate future appears at Quartz we are ready and prepared to embrace the demands of the ‘new normal’.

The phrase ‘new normal’ as is coined the world over, is a term which has formed part of our everyday vocabulary for when we hypothesise on what the future might be like. For me, it not only means change, but also disruption at both a micro and macro level, an unprecedented moment in history to innovate.

Covid-19 has impacted devastation on millions of people throughout the world, the sad loss of life and global financial hardship are not elements we would have chosen. The effects of this time will stay with us and have a lasting impact, changing the way we think of our environment, engage with friends and family, treat strangers and of course, how we do business.

The legal profession is of course no exception, Covid-19 has cast a light upon antiquated practices that we perceived to be ‘normal’ to administer, serve and deliver justice. We have been forced simultaneously to re-think, adapt and to a degree re-invent ourselves at rapid speed.

Whilst we could have never predicted the current seismic shift, caused by the pandemic. I have believed for some time that the ‘writing was on the wall’ for some of the antiquated views of the legal profession when it comes to the future of legal services, especially from the Bar.

The legal profession cannot hold on to the past, across all industry sectors, antiquation and ‘old schoolers’ are being left behind by those looking for and embracing new ways of working – and the Bar was never going to be exempt from what is already being embraced in the business world at large and what will undoubtedly be ‘the new normal’.

When we started Quartz in 2016, our intention was to remain agile, keep everything simple and seamless in providing the right barrister for the solicitor and lay client, best suited to their needs. We are in business of building relationships which, is extremely important when building trust and our value proposition. It is that sense of community and intuitive thinking that has led to my input into the creation of Aircrowd365, a new technology platform for professionals and clients alike to find a solution powered by AI technology.

The Bar is a collegial profession whereby in the main, individual chambers remain close to their competitors and evoke congenial rivalry in a perpetual game of competitive advantage. It is somewhat different within the solicitor profession whereby competition is far more prevalent. I believe that a paradigm shift towards a sharing of resources, knowledge and opportunity will create a much stronger, sustainable legal profession but there will, inevitably be casualties; as we have seen across all industry sectors and those who don’t adapt how the public ‘want’ or indeed ‘expect’ will inevitable get left behind.

There is plenty of work to go round  (circa £35billion spent within the UK legal sector each year), and there are many market opportunities that remain untapped by the legal profession for those of us confident enough to work in a more collegiate way. Take direct access as an example, chambers and solicitors should work more closely in an unbundled way (as we do) to ensure the client gets the best service they need, if that means they find a barrister first of all and then bring in a solicitor then, why not promote and work together?

It is a precarious time for many lawyers, in particular self-employed barristers. A recent survey, conducted by the General Council of the Bar, highlighted the risk associated with running chambers and the sustainability of large sections of the Bar, particularly the criminal and legally aided Bar. Sadly, chambers are failing, and Covid-19 will in many cases speed up that decline, leaving clerks and barristers without chambers.

Confidence in the marketplace has been understandably low with the daily practice of scheduling court hearings causing confusion for clients. The MOJ and HMCTS have coordinated a rapid temporary response to aid a basic functioning justice system, however the volume of cases and understandably disjointed application for remote hearings has caused an unnecessary ‘bottle neck’ within the judicial legal system. However, the fact that courts are now open for face to face hearings has given a sense of confidence for clients to engage. It will of course take some time for the courts to work through the backlog but it is refreshing to see the judiciary trying their best to hear cases; whether that be remotely, face to face or via a hybrid attendance model.

It is clear but perhaps not accepted by all that, we must capitalise on the widely open acceptance amongst barristers, solicitors and the judiciary that technology has to play a pivotal role in the future of the law and how justice is delivered. Open inter-connected technology platforms, such as Aircrowd365 can manage numerous applications to deliver what the legal services sector needs. We just need to open our minds to work more collegiately.

Our solicitors love that we are an agile chambers and have flipped some of the more traditional chambers’ methodology on its head,  the fact we are able to offer a localised service on a national basis is one of our key benefits, so I am told. We have barristers based in nearly all the major cities in the UK, who know the local area and its people, giving the client a sense of familiarity and an understanding that works well between both barrister and solicitor.

We continue to learn from our solicitors and lay clients on how to continually improve our service to them, we ask ourselves numerous Why? and What? questions, to constantly improve and add value to Quartz as a business and all its stakeholders.

Wellness is a very important part of our chambers culture, we are keen to promote wellbeing for our barristers which, positively impacts upon our relationship with our solicitors and of course lay clients. Better organisation, collaboration, and co-ordination on cases where counsel is instructed make for a far less stressful working relationship for all.

Our existing solicitors praise us for our administration efficiency, helping them manage their files seamlessly, the fact that our barristers do return calls, provide advice and billing on time helps them to manage their files in a timely fashion.  Our ‘unbundled’ agile service thread, runs through the whole of Quartz, each part working autonomously so that every element is in tune with the other, including clerking, credit control, accounts and finance, marketing, business development, strategy design and technological development.

If you wish, you can read the full article in the Barrister Magazine here

Paul Wright, CEO

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