Sets' fears grow over Bar kite mark plans

Fears are growing that the cost to chambers of meeting the Bar's comprehensive kite-marking criteria will prohibit many sets from taking it up.

In the future a kite mark may well be essential for a set of chambers to be eligible for legal aid work or to offer services under a conditional fee agreement.

One chambers director says: “It's a sad tale, it's going to squeeze a lot of people out because they won't be able to afford it.”

However, some sets feel that the criteria are not stringent enough and Stephen Hockman QC, chair of the Bar Council's Practice Management and Development Committee, says the scheme is entirely voluntary and that, “the fees are anticipated to be eminently reasonable.”

The basic audit by the British Standards Institute will cost approximately £1,500. To employ a consultant to conduct an analysis and to present a set's application will cost about £8,000.

However, to meet the criteria could mean spending additional tens of thousands of pounds on IT and employing additional administrative staff to keep and maintain the necessary records.

Peter Bennett, practice manager at leading set 36 Bedford Row, says: “Getting the practice management standard is going to be significantly harder than getting ISO 90002. We're going to have to work quite hard to meet these criteria,” he adds.

One practice manager recently interviewed six junior clerks from middle-tier London sets and was surprised to find that none had a contract of employment with their existing set.

He says that other sets are even known not to have a chambers constitution.