Are Solicitors ‘superfluous intermediaries’?

Are Solicitors ‘superfluous intermediaries’?

Barristers are renewing their efforts to capture the territory that has traditionally been the preserve of solicitors. To this end two initiatives have been launched.

The public access scheme was first established in 2004 and allows a barrister to be instructed directly by a lay client without the need for a solicitor. In order to take on public access work a barrister must have more than three years’ practising experience, must be properly trained and must have registered with the Bar Council as a public access practitioner. One stumbling block has been payment of barristers by clients.

In his inaugural speech to the Bar Council on Monday, Michael Todd QC, Chairman-Elect, confirmed that he is “chairing a Working Group, essentially led again by the Member Services Team, to look at the feasibility of a service which would provide BSB-regulated entities and Public Access barristers with an escrow account facility in which can be placed ‘client monies’ and which will be administered centrally from one location by a third party.” He said: “Already considerable interest has been displayed by a number of potential providers of this service.”

He told the Bar Council: “We have no entitlement to work. We must compete for it. We must invest better to adapt, to change, and to flourish. The returns on such investment are, in my view, undeniable.” He went on to say: “Of a Bar of about 15,000 members, nearly 5,000 are now ‘Public Access’ trained. They have made an investment in their future.” In his CrimeLine twitter

Andrew Keogh confirms that: “My police rep courses are mainly filled with barristers at the moment.”

Then on Wednesday last week the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the regulatory body for barristers in England and Wales, announced that it is consulting on amendments to its Code of Conduct for barristers following a review of its public access rules. The BSB said: “Public access rules do not allow a client who may be eligible for public funding to instruct a public access barrister. This is one of the rules the BSB seeks to change. The consultation also suggests that barristers should have a duty to ensure that, before accepting public access instructions, the client is able to make an informed decision about whether to apply for legal aid or to proceed with public access representation.” The lifting of the ban on barristers with under three years’ practising experience from accepting public access instructions is also proposed.

The BSB claim that the change would improve client choice and provide greater access to justice for clients who find themselves without access to legal aid solicitors. Removing the three-year rule and allowing barristers to do direct access work from the time they qualify would expand consumer choice, create greater competition and increase the supply of high quality and competitively priced advocacy services.

According to the Law Gazette, the consultation paper states: “The purpose of allowing lay clients to instruct barristers directly is to remove unnecessary barriers to the provision of barristers’ services and to save costs by cutting out superfluous intermediaries.”

The consultation will close at 5pm on 9 March 2012, and the consultation paper can be found at:
http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/assets/documents/Public%20access%20consultation%20paper%20new.pdf
PS: “Escrow generally refers to the placing of property which is the subject of a commercial transaction (money, title deeds, software source code, etc.,) into the hands of a trusted third party for safekeeping until some specified event occurs which will trigger the release of the property to one party to the initial transaction.” (Out-Law.com)

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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