The tide is turning on the bar’s reliance on solicitors for referrals
Traditionally, the bar has relied on litigators as its route to market. The recession, however, has brought a power shift in that relationship, with City lawyers increasingly looking to the bar for referrals.
The bar’s Public Access Rules came into force in 2004, but, concerned about how this might affect their valued solicitor clients, commercial barristers did not race to embrace the change. They did not want to be seen to be in competition with law firms. It was just not, well, gentlemanly.
Yet the global banking meltdown has thrust change upon the bar, forcing barristers to look beyond private practice lawyers for instructions. It is in-house counsel that are pushing for the change and, consequently, putting serious power in the hands of the advocates and their clerks.
It started with local authorities creating bar panels with the aim of cutting costs - Liverpool City Council recently cut its legal spend by 20 per cent after ditching Exchange Chambers from its roster. The success of panels in reducing legal spend and forcing chambers to offer value-added services means they are catching on. BAE Systems, for example, has a relationship with barristers at Matrix Chambers, Atkin Chambers and Henderson Chambers.
Consequently, sets are being forced to think about how they market themselves. As one chief executive put it: “The bar’s beginning to embrace commercial disciplines. It used to be that there were conflicting brands within sets - individuals versus chambers as a whole. The bar needs to get over that and think as an entity.”
Senior clerks are being asked to provide menus of pricing options, with block, fixed and conditional fees all in demand.
Of course, instructing an advocate only may not always be appropriate and litigators will always be in demand. One senior silk says it is about the two feeding work to each other. Senior clerks are being marketed to by litigators, relationships are getting stronger and the bar is becoming more commercial. Outside the Inns and beyond the profession, some might even suggest the bar is catching up, but for many in the profession it is a relationship revolution.