Heading straight for the bar

With the introduction of BarDirect, barristers are broadening their horizons. Marion Simmons QC arguesthat by cutting out the middle man, in-house lawyers can get a more cost-effective and efficient service. Marion Simmons QC is a tenant at 3/4 South Square and one of the architects of BarDirect.

The beginning of the 21st Century marks our entry into the information technology revolution, bringing with it a new approach to business.

It is essential that those providing legal services are conscious of this new horizon and are ready to meet these new needs.

Traditional methods of obtaining legal services are no longer sustainable. Services must be provided which consider quality, efficiency, expedition and cost.

The new Civil Procedure Rules allow companies to represent themselves in court without the intervention of a solicitor. The Government has challenged the legal profession to provide more efficient and less expensive ways of offering legal services and improving access to justice. The bar’s response is BarDirect.

The bar is, and intends to remain, a referral profession. Solicitors in independent practice and in-house lawyers, whether barristers or solicitors, are able to refer matters to the bar. Referrals have also traditionally come from accountants, surveyors, engineers, architects, licensed conveyancers, valuers, actuaries, and parliamentary, trademark and patent agents. They all have expertise in the law relevant to their specialism.

Under BarDirect any individual, company, organisation or institution that maintains a specialism in a particular area can be licensed to refer matters to a barrister without the intervention of any other person.

The licence is tailor-made to meet the needs of the particular BarDirect client: it may name as the referrer those in the company, organisation or institution who have such specific expertise; it may identify the type of work which can be referred; it may embrace advisory work only; or it may extend to representation before tribunals, arbitrations or the courts on behalf of the individual, company, organisation or institution or its clients or members.

BarDirect will appeal to a wide range of individuals, companies, organisations and institutions not only in the commercial world but also in the not-for-profit, voluntary and charitable sectors.

Licences for the pilot scheme have already been issued to departments of banks, insurers, trade unions and professional bodies, the police and probation services, the Academy of Experts, insolvency practitioners and trading standards officers.

BarDirect is also involved with the Southwark community legal service pioneer project, giving advice agencies within that project direct access to the bar for advisory and advocacy services.

BarDirect is an important tool for those who require legal services, whether a lay client or professional referrer. A wide choice of legal services is now available to the ultimate client. BarDirect highlights the control which the ultimate client can exercise over a legal budget and the legal services which it may acquire. The ultimate client has a choice whether to instruct a firm of solicitors or a barrister. The client makes this choice on considerations of quality and cost-effectiveness.

Where the skills of a solicitor are not required, a barrister may be able to provide legal services effectively and economically. BarDirect equips barristers to compete in the provision of legal services in areas in which they have a reputation of excellence with fees which reflect their low overheads.

Solicitors’ firms and in-house lawyers have always appreciated the skills and expertise of the bar. BarDirect encourages those who already refer work directly to the bar to continue to do so and encourages those who have not yet done so to consider whether it would be appropriate to do so.