Every since the Bar's rules were changed to allow public access (that is to say, to permit barristers to accept instructions and supplying services for most types of legal work without the intervention of a solicitor, patent or trade mark attorney or other professional intermediary), such work has constituted an important and growing part of my practice. I attract such work by running regular monthly IP Clinics and inventors clubs in Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, sponsoring and supporting those in Blackburn and Manchester, making presentations and publishing information on IP and technology law to the public through my IP/IT Update blog and website
Public access changes the way in which barristers can be instructed but not the work that barristers actually do. Paragraph 2 of the Public Access Rules provides:
"Before accepting any public access instructions from or on behalf of a lay client who has not also instructed a solicitor or other professional client, a barrister must take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ascertain whether it would be in the best interests of the client or in the interests of justice for the lay client to instruct a solicitor or other professional client."
That means that If there is any litigation to be done or anyone wants to apply for a patent or trade mark or register a design I have to advise him or her to go to an authorized litigator or patent or trade mark attorney. If the public access client already has a solicitor or some other authorized litigator or if he or she already knows a patent or trade mark attorney all well and good. But most of them do not and ask me to recommend one.
That puts public access barristers in a very difficult position. Barristers are in a unique position as counsel to judge the competence of the professionals who instruct or indeed oppose them. On the other hand, they also have affections and loyalties to firms that have been good to them as well as likes and dislikes (just as solicitors and patent attorneys do for members of the Bar) and it is sometimes very difficult to disregard such sentiments. But the client needs some help and he or she needs to be pointed in the right direction.
The solution that we have adopted in NIPC is to keep a panel of professionals who have proved to us that they know what they are doing and who share our mission of bringing high quality intellectual property and other professional services within reach of those who often need them most but can usually afford them least. These are not necessarily professionals who instruct us but they are all professionals whom we know and trust. We monitor them very closely and were any of them ever to let a client down (and that has never happened to date) we would just simply stop recommending them.
On 4 September 2008 I put the panel on slightly more formal basis. I invited our panellists to a reception in Bradford where they had an opportunity not only to meet me, listen to a CPD presentation and take some refreshments but also to meet each other. Cards were exchanged and we agreed a number of initiatives such as CPD training, sharing stands at exhibitions and our own ning network known as nipNET. Barbara Cookson of Filemot described the meeting and its objectives very well in a post to the IP Solo Practitioners' blog entitled "An Alternative Business Model based on Quality".
nipNET has a number of regional subgroups one of which has already produced its own blog called "IP Yorkshire". In the first post to that blog "Why IP Yorkshire?". No sooner was the post uploaded when I got a case that illustrates the way the panel works to the advantage of client and indeed professional ("No Names, No Pack Drill but Here is a Success Story that shows how the Panel Works"). The client was delighted as you can see from his testimonials to both me and Barbara (see "A Very Satisfied Client"). IP Northwest is the second such group within nipNET and seeks to build on the experience of IP Yorkshire. Since the region contains the metropolises of Greater Manchester and Merseyside we have even greater opportunities and hope for even greater success here.