What solicitors want; the Holy Grail of the solicitor and barrister relationship


“We need to brief counsel. Hand me that list…”

What are the factors that make a barrister a “barrister of choice” in 2020? Gone are the days of whisky-laden trolleys, cerise-ribboned briefs, Luddism being de rigour, prohibitions on barristers visiting solicitors offices, and women barristers being “novel”.

Effective Communication

What solicitors want when briefing a barrister was the theme of a recent CPD panel discussion hosted by the NSW Bar Association.  A range of practical ideas were presented by panel members comprising Antonia Rose (Webb Henderson), Tobin Meagher (Clayton Utz), Dallas Campbell (Suncorp) and facilitated by Sue-Ella Prodonovich from Prodonovich Advisory.

Assuming the barrister has the right skills, expertise and seniority, the following characteristics shed light on a good barrister with “effective communication” topping the charts.

What makes a good barrister?

  • Good communication (e.g. they return calls promptly, even if just to say they are busy, but “checking in”)
  • Easy to work with (e.g. not precious or idiosyncratic)
  • Rolls up the sleeves (e.g. not precious and will fully engage)
  • Not afraid to express an opinion (c.f. very very very carefully couched opinions)
  • Frank advice (e.g. be open to discussing realistic prospects)
  • Decisive (e.g. will sort the wheat from the chaff and not run the “kitchen sink” of potential arguments)
  • Pragmatic (e.g. sorts through the “academic” issues to the real issues; gives succinct advice – gone are the days of the long case summaries…just get to bottom line and show the reasoning)
  • Hardworking (e.g. goes the extra mile, delivers to the deadline)
  • Collaborative (e.g. open to discussing strategy with the broader legal team and client)
  • Client friendly/ability to deal with clients (e.g. amenable to meeting the client and can be trusted to be put in front of client Board of Directors if necessary)
  • Time management (e.g. being honest with time/priorities and delivering when you said you would)

What do the good barristers do (some tips and examples)

  • Good communication (e.g. a quick phone call at outset to confirm that the brief has been received and will be looked at shortly)
  • Provides feedback (e.g. will be honest with how they work, how they like the brief to be prepared, what is working and what is not etc)
  • Is open to early briefing
  • Honesty/frankness (e.g. on prospects)
  • Plain speaking, direct and clear (e.g. no “sub text” or riddle speak)
  • No “late surprises” (e.g. get to heart of key issues, and doing it early)
  • Creative thinking (particularly early in brief and in strategy)

Characteristics to avoid…when to hit “pause”

  • Poor communication (e.g. talking over solicitor/client or “mansplaining”, that is, being condescending to solicitor or client, especially junior members of staff)
  • Inconsistent behaviour (e.g. talking differently to senior/junior lawyers)

How to identify suitable barristers you haven’t before briefed

  • Talk to colleagues (e.g. those who have had first had experience with the barrister)
  • Talk to the floor clerk
  • Talk to other barristers you know about other good barristers
  • Observe other barristers in court, including the opposition for subsequent briefs

What has changed in how barristers are selected in recent times

  • Diversity considerations (e.g. equitable briefing policy)
  • Clients being more involved and wanting to play a part in selecting the barrister

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