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THE LEADER of the solicitor advocates' group has left his firm's partnership to set up an independent practice in association with the practice.
Paul Hampton, chair of the Solicitors Advocates Association, says his decision to break away from London firm Piper Smith & Basham will give him the flexibility he needs to prosper as a solicitor advocate.
Hampton, who has rights of audience for both criminal and civil work, had been a partner with the firm for five years before bowing out of the partnership at the end of last year.
But he is still based at the office and will share its facilities and take on much of its litigation work.
He said as a solicitor advocate he needed to be flexible and spoke of the difficulty of spending long periods away from the office in court while also handling partnership work.
Since Lord Mackay granted extended rights of audience to solicitors two years ago, only 330 have become solicitor advocates.
Qualification criteria and the difficulty and expense of the examination have been blamed by many solicitors for the lack of take up.
Hampton suggested his move could be the way forward for solicitor advocates who wanted to work with smaller law firms and insisted the move was not tantamount to surrendering to the Bar's superiority.
"I don't want to practice at a chambers. I want to have the ability of taking on work from clients and providing them with a seamless service," he said.
Richard Berns, senior partner at Piper Smith & Basham, said he was very happy with the arrangement.
"I hope his relationship with us as an in-house consultant continues."