No News is Bad News for Barristers’ Web Sites

August 4, 2008

For barristers’ chambers, a home page packed with news about their latest cases is an effective low-cost way to promote members’ skills and experience. Unfortunately, too many sets are missing this opportunity. A recent LawComms survey found that many Bar home pages remain static online brochures, or news is out of date or hidden out of sight.

252 Bar Web sites were surveyed by LawComms in June 2008. 52% of the profession’s home pages present only static brochure-style information; they lack even the most basic updates about the set’s activities. On other sites, news and announcements are relegated to a separate page, where visitors are much less likely to see them.

20% of barristers’ sites have no updates of any kind. Two thirds have out-of-date news, more than a month old. Most sites feature only professional announcements and seminar details, with no updates about recent cases. Only about a quarter of news pages mentioned members’ cases.


The Bar can gain considerable benefits from online news.

Google will pick up references in news items, and regular news updates will contribute to good positioning for a set in search results. There are other advantages too.

Instructing solicitors are the most important users of Bar Web sites. A home page with news about the latest cases has a strongly positive impact, demonstrating at a glance members’ responsibility for current leading cases. But very few do this, despite the obvious advantages. ‘The news section is an excellent window on the set’s current work, reflecting our involvement in high profile cases…’, the senior clerk of one leading set told me. ‘Our client contacts will probably look at our web site before calling the clerks or a barrister.’ Another senior clerk knows that instructing solicitors are double-checking everything online as they speak to the clerks’ room on the phone. Creating a good impression with the home page is therefore vital.

Striking design and graphics offer one way to make a home page eye-catching. But leading-edge design can get in the way of user-friendliness, while for repeat visitors – which every Web site wishes to encourage – the originality will soon wear off. Design makeovers are also too costly and time-consuming to be undertaken frequently. Publishing well-presented up-to-date news stories on the home page is the most logical way to keep a Web site looking fresh, and to provide regular users with new interest each time they visit.

‘Internally, the news page also assists in raising awareness’ a senior clerk commented. So the Web site can help promote internal communications as well.


Mistakes made by many chambers’ Web sites include: burying news pages several levels down; allowing news to get out of date; and failing to write in a readable style which is attractive to visitors. The survey’s key findings were:

• 52% of the Bar’s home pages offer only static brochure-style information, lacking even the most basic updates about the set’s activities.

• On the majority of sites, news and announcements are relegated to a separate page – sometimes 2 or 3 clicks from the home page – where visitors are much less likely to see them. Sometimes the menu on the home page included a link to ‘News’; but in quite a few instances, news could be found only from a subsidiary page, such as ‘About Us’. Most visitors will not wish to spend time casually browsing your site looking for news.

• Another common mistake is the failure to update news. In the June 2008 LawComms survey, only 86 of the 252 sites (34%) included recent news, published during the preceding month. There were many examples of ‘news’ where the latest item was badly out of date, including: on many sites, the QC appointments announced in January; the ‘Chambers and Partners’ and ‘Legal 500’ legal directory recommendations published last autumn; a list of recent cases in which the most recent was in 2005; requests for pupillage applications with a closing date months previously; picture features of Christmas parties; invitations to seminars which had already taken place; the ‘current’ newsletter, published in Spring 2006.

• High-profile and well-resourced sets are not immune from problems. Of 22 winners of Chambers Bar Awards surveyed in September 2007, 3 sets had no news page at all, and 4 other sets have badly out-of-date news pages (for example with just one or two items from 2007, or in another instance, the top item dating from 2001).

• Finally, too many Web sites – including many top sets – have a ‘splash’ page carrying just a logo, requiring visitors to click to enter the site, or an animated graphical display before the home page launches. Such pages place a barrier between the visitor and the site’s content, and serve only to take up their time unnecessarily.

Making Your Home Page Work

Integrating news into the design of the home page proves that the site – and the set – are up-to-date. A well-written headline will encourage visitors to read more. Some sites use scrolling headlines (Brick Court is an example) but these can be too slow or too fast, take too long to load, or tell the visitor too little to tempt them to read the full story.

A better option uses a panel on the home page which carries a series of headlines with short summaries of each story, and a link to full information on a news page; 4 Brick Court is an example.

The third way allows news to fill the home page; 39 Essex Street and Tooks Court have adopted this approach. 5RB does this simply and dramatically. Some – such as Matrix – try to adopt the style of a magazine cover, looking busy and attractive, and providing users with quick access to the content that they need.

Some sets have opted to use a news feed from a third-party provider – presumably because there is no one in-house with the time to write material. This has a double disadvantage: it tells visitors nothing about the work and qualities of the set itself; and it tempts them to go off to another Web site to follow up a story.

Although most Bar Web sites include news items, less than a quarter feature case updates, the survey found. Most sites feature only professional announcements, about new tenants or QC appointments. Unfortunately, these items were almost invariably in the inward-looking ‘Chambers congratulates…’ style and very rarely said anything about the individual’s experience or qualities. Seminars were the second most popular type of news item. After news, the fourth most frequent item was pro bono activity, with a handful of mentions.

Making news about a set’s own casework central to the home page ensures it changes as stories and features are updated. As a result, the Web site will be visibly different to repeat users making successive visits.

Practical Steps

For an effective news page, chambers first need to identify who is responsible for publishing updates, then ensure that their workload allows them to give it priority, and the necessary skills, and that communication channels are in place.

One senior clerk at a major set acknowledges that publishing news updates does take time and effort. But in practice, he says, ‘you have to undertake the same research anyway when you are preparing the Legal Directory Submissions’. Member profiles can also be updated with the same material, maximising efficient re-use of information. The news archive will provide a valuable resource when the time comes for compiling directory submissions.

Can barristers be persuaded to supply news? ‘With a good early detection system – clerks and barristers liaising when news hits the wires – it seems to run smoothly’, one clerk told me. Some members will be more enthusiastic than others, but few will want to be left out, once news items featuring their colleagues start to appear.

Style is important. Give items a self-explanatory title modelled on a newspaper headline. Summarise the whole story in the first sentence, which should answer the questions who, what, where, and when. In the following paragraphs, give the detail, and explain ‘why’ this is important. Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Keep to one topic per paragraph. Use the active not the passive voice. Avoid jargon and acronyms unless you can be certain that the audience knows what they mean. Above all, focus the item on what will interest the reader.

About two hours a month is likely to be required to research, write, and publish news updates. This commitment is modest compared to the benefits. The work calls for skills and experience in writing for publication, and ability to write succinct and readable material. Some sets have decided that the best and most cost-effective solution is to outsource maintenance of the news page to an external specialist.

What to Publish

Updates about members’ cases provide the most effective way to demonstrate their skills and experience, and should also generate a regular flow of items. Mentions need not be restricted to reported or even high-profile cases. If need be, news items can be in the form of anonymised case studies.

Two concerns are often expressed by barristers. A leading intellectual property specialist to whom I spoke put it this way: ‘We recently considered a news page. The trouble is we probably do not have enough going on that we can put on there as well as the fact that many of our cases are very sensitive.’ These anxieties are not always well-grounded. For just one member of this set, 24 reported cases are listed in the UK Intellectual Property Office Patents Court – suggesting that the set did have a large enough volume of publishable stories.

News items should not be restricted to the minority of cases in the law reports; large numbers will be in open court and will be in the public domain. Members of chambers already include plenty of case mentions in their online profiles; in most instances, there will be no reason why these should not also be included in news.

There are some constraints in the Code of Conduct, and not every success should be publicised. A bus-driver would not want additional publicity for an acquittal on driving offences. A personal injury claimant might wish to avoid neighbours hearing about a significant damages award. Counsel who successfully prosecuted a gangland leader might not wish to boast about the result online. Even where a matter has already had wide publicity – a businessman acquitted of sexual offences, for example – maintaining details on your Web site could be unhelpful. So editorial judgement will be needed in some instances.

Linking news items to online coverage elsewhere – on the BBC Web site for example – helps increase the authority of the item, as well as cutting down the writing needed.


News on the Web site, however good, has to wait for users to visit it. Proactive e-marketing can enhance the value of a news page still further. Circulating an email, with links to a relevant news story, to key professional clients, media contacts, and opinion-formers will help keep the set’s name in peoples’ minds, generate positive publicity, and bring visitors to the Web site.

Using a Web site to spread information about case results and other developments provides a cost-effective easy-to-use marketing tool that can enable sets to gain significant competitive advantage. No news is bad news: sets lacking a good news page, and taking no steps to promote it, are missing a major opportunity to enhance their professional reputation.

LawComms principal Gerald Newman is a lawyer with a proven track record in media relations, marketing, training, and the web – with solicitors and barristers: