Barristers should seize the opportunity to conduct litigation because when clients see a choice of a direct-access practice and a law firm, 'it's got to be the barristers every time', the founder of a pioneering practice told the conference.
'The public knows what a wig means, we are our own best USP,' Amanda de Winter (pictured, second left) founder of high street practice Barristers & Co, said.
The session on 'Litigation: expanding opportunities for the bar' heard that the Bar Standards Board had so far approved only 129 barristers to conduct litigation. However, Patricia Robertson (second right), vice-chair of the BSB, said that she expects more practitioners to enter the field in competition with solicitors as regulated barrister entities become reality.
'Litigation is now up and running and live, and entities will be happening next year,' she said.
Barristers seeking to conduct litigation pay a £90 one-off fee and have to demonstrate that they have systems in place to administer and manage litigation. They must also demonstrate 'knowledge and training' in the area, which may come from being employed by a law firm or from experience acting in public access cases where the client is conducting the litigation themselves.
Vanessa Davies (centre), director of the BSB, said the regulator expects approval from the Legal Services Board to begin licensing barrister-only entities 'in a matter of weeks' and would open its doors to applications from the beginning of January. However, progress towards becoming a regulator of alternative business structures is 'a little more protracted', Davies said.
The BSB intends to submit its application to the LSB before Christmas and expects this to take six months to be approved. 'We are making best efforts to telescope timescales as much as we can,' said Davies, and while the 'LSB has learned a lot' from its experience with regulators such as the SRA, 'it's slower than we would like it to be.'
De Winter said that the advantages for clients of conducting litigation through a barrister included a fixed fee and not having a different lawyer presenting the case in court.
'This is a gift, an opportunity to level the playing field,' she said. The general public didn't really understand why a barrister couldn't do the same job as a solicitor, and now I don't have to say that any more.'