In an innovative commercial move, tax specialist set Gray's Inn Chambers is outsourcing three of its junior barristers to at least six City and commercial solicitors' firms with over-stretched tax departments.
The trio - Conrad McDonnell, Hugh McKay and Aparna Nathan - charges an hourly rate, effectively acting as assistant solicitors. The three attend meetings with clients, draft tax deeds and provide general tax advice. McKay and Nathan spend 50 per cent of their time in law firms, while McDonnell clocks up 25 per cent.
"We are not really turning into de facto solicitors," said McKay, "because we run our practices the same way as before. We have just got a little closer to our solicitor clients."
McDonnell emphasised that their new role fell within Bar Council rules. Gray's Inn first began outsourcing when it was asked to help out one particular firm.
Nathan also has a legal link-up with an accountancy firm, which she would not name. All three work for about six law firms, most of whom refused to be identified.
However, aviation firm Beaumont and Son said it found that using McKay made sound financial sense. Partner Patricia Barnes said clients in particular valued the extra expertise which counsel brought to the job.
The arrangement is a sign of the shortage of talented tax solicitors in the City and part of a growing trend for barristers' chambers looking for new sources of income and better links with their clients.
Another leading tax chambers, Pump Court, has also stepped in for solicitors firms with staffing problems but on a much more ad hoc, short-term basis. Pump Court's senior clerk Graham Kettle said the chambers was happy to help out, but he said it was wary of making long-term commitments.