Brum super-set takes direct action

No 5 Chambers fends off the downturn blues with move towards shared services

While many barristers are surfing a litigation wave, just as many are feeling the pinch from the downturn and the annihilation of the legal aid budget. For sets that straddle civil and criminal work this presents a dilemma: how do you maintain a collective and productive culture when earnings from one half of the set outstrip those of the other?

As legal aid cuts work through the system, chambers are looking for new revenue streams. For Birmingham’s No 5 Chambers, the largest set in England and Wales, this comes in the guise of direct access work as well as formalised partnerships with firms.

The set is poised to launch a sister company to funnel direct access instructions. Practice director Tony McDaid has been at the forefront of the developments and says the company will be a “quasi-referral company that creates leads for chambers and has capacity to create leads for solicitors”.

Across the bar clerks have seen a surge in solicitor marketing as lawyers wake up to the fact that barristers can create lucrative income streams.

“There’s a lack of knowledge about where to go to instruct a solicitor,” explains McDaid. “We have a wealth of experience in the clerks’ room as to where they should go to get advice. We’re fixers – we know how to get people from A to B.”

Of course, the service will only be suited to certain practice areas such as employment, planning and environmental work, and the set will want to look after its solicitor client base, but it also needs to ensure its future.

The break-up of London-set 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square, which saw almost half of its members quit for 39 Essex Street, shows the bar is not immune to the crunch. It needs to look to a more commercialised future and find its place.

For No 5, home to more than 200 members, the focus has to be on financials and not tip-toeing around the competition – be they solicitors or barristers.

“The future of legal services lies in shared services,” says McDaid.

With barrister ABS in the pipeline, he may have a point.