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Two Bar Council committees have urged caution over plans for a referral service direct from claims managers to barristers.
The Bar Council's policy committee, chaired by bar chairman Roy Amlot QC, has had talks with Claims Direct as the potential claims manager referring work direct to chambers. Mark Stobbs, the bar's head of professional standards and legal services, also had a meeting last week. Claims Direct denies these meetings took place. If it complies with the Bar Council's code of conduct the proposal is expected to be in place by next term. The council estimates annual returns of about £10m. The Bar Council's professional standards committee and the professional conduct and complaints committee have warned in a guidance note that payments by barristers to claims managers breach the barristers' code of conduct. Another concern is over barristers paying clerks in other chambers for forwarding work from claims managers, and introduction fees of a set amount per case. The guidance advises that barristers must not sign an agreement which is in effect a contract with a lay client. Any reduction for early settlement of fees should be made clear on the fee note. A proposal that Brown Associates, a London-based ultidisciplinary consultancy comprised of lawyers, insurers and IT experts, acts as a conduit between barristers and clams managers has been ejected. Brown Associates chief executive Antony Brown said: "It was rejected [by the Bar Council] as this would be procurement of fees. We argued it was a service to the bar." Referring to Brown Associates' proposal, the committees say blank fee notes should not be sent to and completed by third parties but should record the fee that the barrister is paid in exchange for professional services. Barristers must also take care to ensure that they have had time to consider all documents before completing work. Unsatisfactory terms of contracts should be re-negotiated with the instructing solicitor. The guidance adds: "There is nothing inherently wrong in undertaking work which has been generated by Claims Direct or any similar organisation but, in doing so, barristers must ensure that any arrangements pursuant to which the work is done by them must comply with the code [of conduct]."