The Bar Standards Board and the Legal Services Board have jointly published a consultants project into public access (the system under which barristers may see client’s directly rather than being instructed through professional advisers, especially solicitors).
…there appears to have been relatively modest beneficial impacts for consumers, with respect to widening choice, improving timeliness of access to legal services, and reducing costs. This is partly because not all clients or cases are, in the barristers’ opinion, deemed suitable for public access. However, barristers doing higher volumes of public access work, and those authorised to conduct litigation, reported higher levels of beneficial impacts…
Very fairly, the reports authors point out they would largely be unable to report on consumer risks because they had no data from the consumers themselves.
Perhaps the most important impression given from the data is that public access is growing and that the main barriers to it are the inability of clients to take on the more complicated bits of cases that barristers are reluctant to do under public access. Litigation and correspondence were, for some, problem areas creating undesired work. Two things stuck me as interesting:
- some of the barrister respondents may have been uncertain whether – when they were helping their clients – they were conducting litigation (and so some may have been doing so when not authorised – it’s not clear if this is an error driven by the way the surveys were completed or something that is really happening); and,
- whilst most public access work came through recommendation, a fair proportion of work was received through an intermediary. This made me wonder whether the Bar’s ban on referral fees was vulnerable in practice. Unsurprisingly, the report is silent on this.
A more interesting question for me is the extent to which barristers or ancillary providers are able to develop systems, web platforms, apps, and so on to support the ‘unbundled’ model of legal services that public access could lead.