The success of BarDirect will ultimately depend on chambers' ability to identify and exploit the opportunities of the scheme, write Jeffrey Nedas and Mark Green
In recent years barristers have not benefited as much as solicitors from the growth in the legal services market. But this could change with the BarDirect scheme, which extends the number of organisations that can instruct a barrister directly without the intervention of a solicitor.The evidence for barristers’ failure to benefit from the growth in the legal services market lies in the numbers of practising solicitors and barristers. While there are many more solicitors than barristers, the numbers of both grew at broadly the same rate throughout the 1990s. However, the BDO Stoy Hayward Survey of Barristers’ Chambers last year noted that in 1999 the number of practising solicitors grew by 5.9%, whereas the number of practising barristers grew by only 2.4%.One possible reason for slower growth at the Bar is that solicitors’ firms, particularly large firms, are now able to offer in-house many of the traditional services of the Bar. Solicitors are at the heart of the legal supply chain, so they can determine whether or not work gets referred on.BarDirect overcomes the problem of solicitors’ control of the value chain by offering organisations licensed by the Bar Council the opportunity to instruct barristers directly. More than 30 organisations have now been licensed.The list of licensees indicates the scope of BarDirect. A wide range of organisations have been licensed, including banks, insurers, employment consultants, police forces, probation services and commercial firms. These organisations are likely to be instructing counsel across an equally diverse range of work types from criminal work, to professional negligence, to pure commercial work. There is also work for counsel of a wide range of experience, from the senior barrister specialising in clinical negligence to the pupil pursuing a breach of probation terms.The Bar Council quotes positive feedback from those that have used BarDirect so far. For example, one department of the North Yorkshire Police, which piloted BarDirect, asserted that “it has clearly achieved a reduction in our legal fees, [and] the advice given has always been prompt enabling swift decisions to be made as necessary”.Even before the introduction of BarDirect, members of certain professional organisations (such as chartered accountants, chartered surveyors) could instruct barristers directly. So could employed solicitors in organisations such as local authorities. But BarDirect has extended this.It is early days yet: the BDO Stoy Hayward survey found that last year BarDirect and Direct Professional Access (DPA), which has now been subsumed within BarDirect, together accounted for just 2.3% of the Bar’s income, which we estimated to be between £1.3bn and £1.5bn. But what are the prospects of growth?Growth in income from BarDirect will rely on two factors:1. the Bar’s ability to identify suitable opportunities; and2. individual barristers’ and chambers’ ability to exploit the opportunities.
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