Bar vision

Earlier this week the incoming chair of the Bar Council Michael Todd QC delivered a wide ranging inaugural speech outlining his vision for the bar in 2012.

Michael Todd QC
Michael Todd QC

It was outspoken, with the condemnation of the proposed legal aid spending cuts. It was bold, with plans in the offing to allow chambers to hold client monies. And it was ambitious in terms of plans to diversify the bar.

What the bar needs during times of vast change is a steady representative group with a strong leader who can put its point across. It is quite clear that in his opening speech Todd was attempting to convey he was up to the job.

Barristers, particularly in the commercial world, struggle to understand exactly what it is the Bar Council does for them. In his opening speech Todd tackled this notion head on, it was a brave move because he effectively acknowledged past failings of the group.

“We need better communication between all sectors of the bar, employed and self-employed, publicly funded and privately funded, in London and on the circuits, between the various practice areas; we’re one bar, not a series of disparate bars, and that gives us our strength,” he said.

To that end, he hammered home his theme of the year: investment in the future. “It’s only by investing that we’ll ever achieve the justice system which serves all of us who come into contact with it, efficiently and effectively,” he said.

Under the banner he promoted the need for chambers to be able to set themselves up as commercial ventures to be able to compete for work.

The Bar Standards Board has come in for criticism for failing to put in place the necessary regulations needed for chambers to move ahead on procurecos – or commercial subsidiaries.  Such rules will need to be formulated in consultation with the Bar Council.

It seems the wheels are being put in motion, with Todd unveiling a working group led by the Member Services Team “which would provide BSB-regulated entities and public access barristers with an escrow account facility in which can be placed ‘client monies’ and which will be administered centrally from one location by a third party”.

Exactly who the third party would be is yet to be decided, but Todd also hinted that clerks, practice managers and chambers’ chief executives could become affiliated with the trade body, giving it some professional standards for the first time.

The Lawyer revealed in March how the Institute of Barristers Clerks (IBC) had begun lobbying to have their work regulated and the job recognised as a profession in its own right (21 March 2011).

“It’s right in my view,” says Todd, “that they should be given an opportunity to be affiliated to this council. So my working group has prepared a report for submission to, and consideration by, the GMC and this council in the early part of next year, with a view, I hope, to facilitating such an affiliation.”

The news will be welcomed by the clerking community, which has become so integral to the business management of chambers.

There will also be further investment in diversity at the bar with Todd paying particular attention to giving support to the school speakers programme.

He says: “We need to be, and to be seen to be, an accessible profession, in which we never take our eyes off the importance of, and benefits that can be gained from, social mobility and diversity.”

The success of the bar depends on the people who work within it. The Bar Council must lead by example and Todd’s words demonstrate he is capable of leading. Now we need to see the substance behind the words.