Setting standards for Bar practice
1 November 1999
Sir Winston Churchill said that an optimist was someone who found the opportunity in every difficulty. I declare myself an optimist about the kite-marking of chambers management and administration.
In 1999 the Bar will introduce a kite-marking system based on its existing Practice Management Standards (PMS). The kite mark will have British Standard or similar, approval followed by accreditation through independent agencies.
The standard should be approved by Easter and accreditation will start from summer. Although the scheme will be voluntary, it will doubtless be regarded by the Legal Services Commission of private clients as a mark of efficient practice management by accredited chambers.
The existing PMS will generate an objective set of practice standards, independently verified and open to future review and improvement. The Bar and clients will therefore benefit from improved efficiency and better service. But a kite mark will not apply to a barrister's forensic ability - the marketplace is an efficient arbiter to determine who is a good practitioner.
The voluntary standard will embrace many aspects of chambers practice but will focus on client care, fee collection and financial management and the management of briefs, instructions and communications with clients. These goals were based upon extensive consultation and independent expert advice, and were developed with government funding.
Kite-marking is necessary because we exist as a profession to serve the public both in and out of court. As advocates we must be equally committed to improving standards of service. Clients rightly expect high quality service at reasonable cost. There is no excuse for sloppiness.
Such a system is also a predictable component in the future use of franchising standards by the Legal Services Commission. The Legal Aid Franchise Quality Assurance Standard has already been established and the Legal Services Commission will "own" a Community Legal Service kite mark.
Competition between chambers is also a spur for a kite mark standard, all the more pressing should rights of audience be extended.
The standard will be widely circulated. There will be extensive information and advice available with comprehensive consultation and full co-operation between the Bar Council and chambers, clerks and practice managers. We will also review standards with service users.
The improvement of service standards is the responsibility of us all. But to have credibility the standard will have to be tested in each chambers by qualified independent experts. Chambers can expect to pay a reasonable charge for this service, which is itself the subject of a competitive market.
Efficient chambers should find the early passage to a kite mark practicable within the proposed timetable. Inefficient chambers will be on notice that they will need to meet the kite-marking standards or suffer adversely.
To better serve the public as an independent profession of specialist advocates and advisers we need to organise chambers and provide our services in a business-like way. As Austin Hall Management Consultants puts it: "Say what you do, do what you say - and be able to prove it."
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