You know how you sometimes start a conversation and quickly realise that you would have done well to keep your mouth shut? I did that last week. Fixed-price quotations for legal services and the defects of the CPR’s new budget requirements are important and interesting subjects; they were not, however, what I was after with my simple tweeted commendation of some video marketing in which I gratuitously said that the subject was interesting as well as the format. My main focus was on how you get messages across; what followed quickly became a discussion first about the message itself and then about the underlying practice problem.
I don’t complain about this by the way. This is how Twitter works, flipping from subject to (more or less) related subject, like pub conversations in which passers-by pick up on the bit which interests them and send the discussion down another track. Besides, the subjects of how you undertake legal work, how you quote for doing it, and how you describe your services and prices to the buyers in competition with others are closely related.
The video was one on the Riverview Law site. This has recently been revamped and has won much praise for its appearance and for its extensive use of short video clips as an alternative to yet more words. I am interested in modern and attractive websites like this at multiple levels quite apart from my interest in how legal services are delivered. Being positive about this one, I am increasingly turning to video production myself (as supplements to words rather than a replacement) and like to see what other people are doing. More critically, while I can make sense of black type on white backgrounds at almost any size, I simply cannot read small white type on black backgrounds and have given up trying, however interesting the content and however pretty the site. It is just as well Riverview Law has the videos.
One which caught my eye was called How we can offer fixed pricing. In it, the eloquent Jeremy Hopkins, Director of Operations at Riverview Law, sits in a large, empty, white space (I told you I was interested in the visuals, and this was good) and talks about how Riverview Law is able to bring to its clients the significant benefits of fixed price litigation.
Before I go on, should say that there was a bit of fuss recently following an article in the Law Society Gazette headed Half of barristers trained to bypass solicitors from 2015 about the number of barristers who plan to complete new public access training. The article reported that, in addition to those already qualified, 14% of barristers plan to apply for authorisation to conduct litigation, “further edging out solicitors”. The reaction, generally, was much mockery from solicitors; instead of sweeping in with lordly style for the high points of the process, to dispense advice and do the advocacy, barristers would find themselves filling in forms, dealing with understaffed courts and CPS deadheads, managing client money (to say nothing of clients themselves), making up bundles and generally coping with the very tedious nuts and bolts of litigation.
An article from Jeremy Hopkins followed, with the title, Public access to the bar – main event or sideshow? He disposes briskly of some of the more alarmist commentary and “paranoia-induced hype” and says that the marketing clout of solicitors “benefits the bar hugely”. The trend we are on is a good one, Jeremy says “a recipe for a very well-functioning market”.
It is not necessary to take sides here, nor is it necessarily a solicitors v barristers point. The object of my diversion into this broader subject is to observe that there was already some visible tension about the neatly-packaged task which some lawyers have and the unmeasurable amount of tedious stuff which falls to others.
Let us return to my commendation of the Riverview Law video on fixed-price legal services. The tweet from Riverview Chambers which linked to the video and started the discussion said that fixed pricing for litigation was “not as difficult as many make it out to be”. I passed this on, saying that it was “interesting not just for what it says but also for the simple, low-key use of video”.
The well-respected litigation solicitor Richard Harrison of Laytons came in with “If only I believed it! In real life, in a complex litigation matter, how do you fill in a precedent H?”. Richard Harrison was a critic of cost budgeting when it was but a twinkle in Lord Justice Jackson’s eyes. He does not object to the principle that solicitors ought to do their best to predict costs, which competent solicitors like him have always done as far as was possible. What he objects to is the detail required in Precedent H and the early stage at which one must make the required predictions. He sees a lack of realism in those who think that the vagaries of clients’ instructions and opponents’ elephant traps fit with the simplistic “construction project” analogy which underpins the budget regime as it stands.
The business of prediction at this stage is itself unpredictable, not least because the usual variables of litigation are now joined by a lack of consistency between case-managing judges, many of whom have had long careers without ever having to worry their heads about budgets and don’t want to start now. One was quoted recently as saying “If Rupert Jackson wants all these costs budgets, he can come down here and do them himself”.
The Twitter conversation which followed quickly took us away from my original subject, the use of video for marketing, and into criticism of Precedent H. If they seem unrelated, they are not. Clients (to say nothing of rule-makers and judges) need to understand clearly what difficulties are put in the way of those who must actually deal with the rules and their obligations.
To revert to my original point, I feel fortunate in having new ways, such as video, of getting messages out and new ways (like Twitter) of debating points like this.