Monday, 23 November 2009

Bar moves with the times

Historic reforms on the regulation of barristers were approved by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) last week. In response to mounting pressure the BSB (see previous blog 'Bar behind the times') has agreed that barristers should be allowed to establish partnerships with solicitors and with other barristers. The rule change ends 800 years of tradition.

Barristers were in danger of losing out to solicitors as without the change they would not have been permitted to join the new legal disciplinary practices (LDPs). LDPs allow legal and other professionals to form partnerships and permit 25 per cent ownership by non-lawyers. In LAG’s view it makes sense that barristers can now bring their advocacy expertise to such partnerships as this will enhance the service to clients and hopefully reduce costs.

LAG believes that some chambers might move to form LDPs or other legal entities to enable them to compete for blocks of work from the Legal Services Commission and other organisations. The rule changes also alter the role of self-employed barristers as they will now be able to take witness statements, correspond with clients and provide advice in police stations (although this would rule them out of representing the client in court).

There will inevitably be some blurring of the distinction between solicitors and barristers with these rule changes. They could be a major stepping stone on the road to a unified legal profession. The Bar will only survive by maintaining its reputation for providing independent specialist advocacy services.

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