Opportunity knocked

Chambers see their own regulator as a block on the road to ABS


Chambers wanting to make structural changes under the Legal Services Act (LSA) could turn to the SRA because their watchdog, the Bar Standards Board (BSB), will not be LSA-ready until 2014.

The arrival of fixed-fee sets Riverview Chambers and Stobart Barristers has prompted some to consider life as an alternative business structure (ABS).

Being able to offer block booking to in-house counsel for a set fee is attractive for chambers, which are under greater fee pressure than ever before. Some are keen to employ solicitors in-house, while others want to ramp up the number of direct access instructions.

Yet some at the bar feel the BSB is not on their wavelength, saying it has been dragging its feet on relaxing its regulations.

“The BSB will not have entity-based regulation until 2014 and by then, who knows what changes might have taken place outside the bar?” a source said.

Another said that media institutions in particular were keen to block-book, but were being denied the chance by the BSB rules.

“Media companies want to be able to use corporate entities, but unless we take on a solicitor and get SRA-regulated we’re not able to do that,” the source said. “We’re being held back by our own regulator.”

The BSB said regulatory reform would need the approval of the Legal Services Board. It plans to submit an application to become a licensing authority in December and, if approved, the statutory process means that “2014 is the earliest we could regulate ABSs”.