Bar poised for flood of instructions as direct access rules are relaxed

A forthcoming rule allowing barristers to receive instructions from companies without the need for licences has led to an upsurge in targeting new direct access work by the Bar

It is predicted that this will lead to an increase in advisory and advocacy work from small and medium-sized companies, as well as from some professional services organisations that do not have in-house counsel. Companies currently do not require licences to instruct the Bar direct if the instruction comes from in-house lawyers.
Senior members of the Bar also predict that in the future, intermediaries, such as claims managers, will be able to deal direct with barristers. Currently intermediaries are outlawed as they can result in illicit payment of commissions for receiving and referring their work.
Commercial sets said that negotiations with companies in the wake of the new direct access rules due to come into force in January 2003, are already underway.
Combar chairman Michael Brindle QC said: “The process has begun already. There's a strong minority that says this is all hopeless and will end in tears. My view is that it's difficult, but we ought to be doing this because of the Office of Fair Trading's view that we're accommodating, and it may be a useful service we are providing the commercial community.”
Mark Stobbs, head of the Bar's professional standards and legal department, said that chambers may be reluctant to receive instructions from unlicensed institutions.
Intermediaries or legal services providers may also be allowed to instruct barristers direct, which will require a review of the Bar's code of conduct.
Intermediaries have been the cause of headaches for the Bar. In one case, allegations of payments by Robert Rhodes QC's 4 King's Bench Walk to Claims Direct sparked a Bar Council investigation (The Lawyer, 24 September 2001). Since The Lawyer's article, the Bar Council has refused to comment on its inquiry. The Bar's concern is that intermediaries are unregulated.