Jan. 21, 2013
-- The majority of individuals in England and Wales are accustomed to using a solicitor for legal advice. A solicitor will often instruct a barrister if a case requires particular expertise. However, in 2004 regulations began to change to allow the public to get direct access to a specialist barrister for legal advice and representation without paying a solicitor. By 2012, the regulations allowed the public to go directly to a barrister for advice and representation in any area of law. For decades this was simply not allowed. Now, thousands of individuals are choosing to go directly to a barrister. With this number increasing, could this be the end for the traditional method of using a solicitor for legal advice?
Open Counsel (http://www.opencounsel.co.uk)
launches on 21st January 2013 and will be facilitating direct access to barristers for any area of law anywhere in England and Wales. Open Counsel’s Director stated ‘barristers are highly specialised legal experts. By going directly to a barrister people can get excellent quality advice and representation without having to pay for a solicitor, the rise in people going direct will continue to increase’. When asked why more people did not go directly to a barrister he said ‘people simply don’t know they can do this, it took decades for the regulations to change to make it possible and people are still finding out’.
One potential problem for barristers is that they are generally self-employed without the support to deal with the administration of a case on their own. Open Counsel solves this by providing barristers with the back-office administrative support (http://www.opencounsel.co.uk/barrister-support-service/
) to allow barristers to concentrate on the legal details of a case. Usually, a fixed-fee quote is given to the individual for the cost of the administration and the service of the barrister. The legal service provided can be more affordable than going to a solicitor.
Direct access to a barrister can still have its drawbacks. Currently, individuals that are eligible for legal aid must still use a solicitor for their legal service. Also, by going directly to a barrister individuals may still have to sign documents themselves as a direct access barrister may not be able to do it on their behalf. However, the guidance of an expert barrister may be sufficient in most situations.
With thousands of barristers around the country with different specialities it might be difficult choosing the right one. Open Counsel helps individuals in the selection process (http://www.opencounsel.co.uk/how-it-works/
). By discussing individual requirements they are able to search across the country, find the best barrister for the particular case and negotiate a deal on behalf of the individual. Individuals may also call barristers themselves but risk choosing an inappropriate one for the case or paying an excessive fee.
In 2013 the Bar Standards Board (https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/
) plans to widen the scope for direct access barristers allowing even freshly qualified barristers to deal directly with the public and also allow direct access for people that are eligible for legal aid. These plans have been slammed by the Law Society (http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/)
regulating solicitors who recently called the latest plans ‘an abdication of regulatory risk’. However, if the current trend towards direct access to barristers continues then going to a solicitor for legal services may become a thing of the past. Certainly, the change in regulations now means that individuals have greater choice when it comes to legal advice. For many, going directly to a barrister is proving to be the preferred option.