Between 1955 and 2004 a UK resident had to instruct a solicitor, patent attorney or other professional intermediary if he or she needed to consult a barrister. That restriction never applied to residents of other countries even if they happened to be British nationals. And for several years the Bar Council licensed limited companies, trade unions and other entities that met certain criteria to instruct barristers without the intervention of a professional intermediary through a scheme called “BarDirect”. On 4 July 2004 the restrictions on access were further relaxed by a scheme called “public access” which permitted any member of the public to consult a member of the Bar on most areas of law though family, immigration and criminal work were excluded from the scheme.
Responding to the Legal Services Act 2007 and a rapidly changing legal services market, the Bar Council has given a lot of thought as to how the Bar can survive. The strategies that it is devised are summarized in the leaflet “Prepare for Change”. All those strategies require barristers to market their services directly to the public as well as to the professional intermediaries who are nowadays as much the Bar’s competitors as its clientele. In order to market their services directly to the public barristers have to be trained how to take instructions from and provide services without the filter of a professional intermediary.
All the members of these chambers underwent public access training as soon as we could. Alex Khan was on the first course in July 2004 and I followed him in September of that year. However, only a fraction of the Bar has undergone this training and most of those who have done so seen to practise in London. Recently, the restrictions on public access work were relaxed and it is now possible to do most types of work on public access.
Two new public access training programs have been announced for the Northern Circuit:
· Kenworthy’s Buildings, Manchester 27 Nov 2010; and
· Corn Exchange Liverpool, 15 Dec 2010.
It is important to stress that –public access is not just for the benefit of the Bar. As the Bar Council puts it
“Consumers are already benefiting from the approachable and high quality service provided by Public Access barristers through:
· Easy and speedy access to straight to the point, specialist advice
· Reduced legal costs
· Greater control over the success of their case
· Lower financial risk
· Real value for money.
Many Public Access barristers are seeing repeat instructions from organisations, businesses and the general public who are seeking the right results for the right price.”
It is also good for solicitors and other professional intermediaries. Since 2005 I have referred back as least as much to solicitors and patent and trade mark agents as I have received from them. Three of my four biggest recent cases including, Newzbin and FAT BETTY have come to me under public access.
So I hope my colleagues on the Northern Circuit take advantage of this opportunity to equip themselves for the changing legal market.