Norton Rose has almost halved its volume of bar referrals in the past two years and plans to reduce it "significantly further".
It is also in the throes of being the first firm to bring solicitor-advocacy training in-house. In January 2000, the firm estimated that £7m was spent on its latest financial year, while its predictions for this financial year total £3.8m. Besides reducing costs, Norton Rose hopes to provide a one-stop shop for clients, and claims that clients are keen to save costs by reducing dramatically the amount of work sent to the bar. But bar members disagree that law firms advocate at a cheaper rate than the junior bar. Robert Ralphs, senior clerk at One Essex Court, said that he starts his junior tenants on £50 an hour. Another clerk at a leading chambers said that a top law firm charges at least £150-£200 an hour for any work. Norton Rose currently has 18 solicitor-advocates, four of whom are barristers, and a further five will be trained by January. It hopes that a further 64 fee-earners will take the course in the first six months of 2002. Norton Rose says it is the first firm to bring in-house the three-day advocacy and assessment course needed to become an accredited solicitor-advocate. Anthony Dutton, corporate and banking partner at Norton Rose, said: "There has to be a specific reason for going to the junior bar when you have lead counsel. Also, obviously, the client has the right to have who they want in court, and we don't assume we can compete with Jonathan Sumption QC." However, once higher rights are obtained, the firm hopes the majority of work could be brought in-house.