Thursday, 11 September 2014


For people who live their lives advocating their clients' cases, some barristers can be remarkably poor at communication.

Most problems in most businesses come down to one of two problems - or both. Leadership & communication - and much of leadership is to do with good communication. If communication is poor, or if members and staff are not trained to think about communication, then small problems very quickly become big problems. Let me give you an example.

When we are not in London, we rent our flat out through a very good service - I'm not going to name them for the moment. Generally things go well and there are no problems, but the last time we were away, there was a problem with one of the bathroom taps which I noticed when we were 'touching down' for one night. I emailed the company and told them about the problem, knowing that they have a number of people who could pop in and fix it That's where it all went wrong. The correct response to my email would have been "Oh dear, what a nuisance. We'll send someone in to see what the problem is" - and then, if it was a 'wear and tear' problem, we could have had a discussion about sharing the cost. Sadly that's not what happened. The reply was "Well we can send in a plumber to fix the leaky tap, but that's wear and tear so you'll have to pay".

Wow. Not only had they not read my email properly so had mis-diagnosed the problem, there was an immediate assumption that it was my fault/problem. That one sentence has, so far, caused us both about ten days worth of problems, and we're not done yet.

It was (very) poor communication from someone inadequately trained in their job. They annoyed me and so far I've had one meeting with our account handler and am about to arrange one with the London MD. I don't like the blame culture that the communication suggests - but mostly I just don't like the communication.

The same happens all the time in law firms and chambers. Lawyers bill clients to re-draft documents that had errors in them - without any discussion with the client. Many barristers don't seem to like to communication at all - and so we can have very strange discussion out what their clients might want (and in which they have to admit that they are guessing since, of course, they haven't asked).

If you communicate with your clients - and prospective clients - almost everything becomes easier. If a project is probably going to run late, tell the client and have the discussion in advance and so have a small problem (telling the client may not be an easy conversation) before it becomes a big problem ('why isn't the project finished when you said it would be').

It is almost impossible to over communicate - so, if in doubt, speak!

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