A Southampton firm has set out to compete directly with chambers on the south coast by setting up its own employment advocacy unit.
Hepherd Winstanley & Pugh, a 14-partner firm, has written to the top 75 firms in the country to alert them to a service it promises will compete with counsel on both performance and price.
The scheme is the brainchild of Hepherd Winstanley solicitor Peter Woodhouse, an ex-barrister who has higher court rights of audience in all jurisdictions.
The unit will specialise in employment tribunal work, acting for employers.
In his letter to the firms Woodhouse says:
there will be no returned briefs;
the unit's advocates are experienced at dealing directly with lay clients;
there is no need to instruct someone to “sit behind”;
advocates can meet witnesses in advance and take statements from them.
Woodhouse goes on to urge the firms to support their fellow solicitors.
He says: “Of course, the future of solicitor advocates rests in the hands of the profession: the more we are used, the stronger the profession will be.”
Although some City firms run their own advocacy units, it is unusual for a firm as small as Hepherd Winstanley to take that step.
Gregory Townsend, the senior clerk at Jeremy Gibbons QC's set at 17 Carlton Crescent in Southampton, said that he welcomed the competition.
But he added that he was confident the set would continue to thrive because of the Bar's “traditional strengths” of specialist advocates, greater experience and lower overheads.