The Bar Council has developed a scheme to allow barristers to hold client money through a third party, a move that its chair says will create a 'level playing field' with solicitors.
Today it launches BarCo, a third-party escrow account which holds client money, allowing barristers to offer a full range of legal services without breaching the code of conduct.
BarCo, according to the bar, offers a 'simple and secure' way for barristers to handle client payments, enabling them to offer 'even better-value competitive legal services' and 'making it easier than ever to work with the bar'.
At present, barristers cannot accept payments on account or upfront from clients and cannot hold funds for litigation, for example in connection with conveyancing work.
BarCo will make these things possible, providing a vehicle to manage the payment of legal and litigation costs, with funds held in a ringfenced account at Barclays Bank.
Designed and created by the Bar Council's member services team, BarCo will be submitted for regulation by the Financial Services Authority. It will launch formally in 2013 after a national roadshow this autumn and an initial pilot. Bar chair Michael Todd QC (pictured) said the scheme constitutes 'one of the most important developments in the legal services sector' since the Legal Services Act came into force.
'BarCo is more than simply a bank account,' he said. 'It provides clients with the facility seamlessly to access the full range of the bar's high-quality services, and it enables the bar to change its business without changing the way it does business.'
Todd added that the account puts the bar on a 'level playing field' whether barristers use the traditional referral model, offer public access services or choose in the future to form new business entities.
BarCo is one of a number of bar initiatives responding to the post-LSA legal services environment.
They include the ProcureCo scheme, spearheaded by former bar chair Nicholas Green QC, which launched in April 2010. The ProcureCo is a separate corporate vehicle formed as an adjunct to chambers, through which barristers can bid for work.
However, apart from a few sets, such as London's Argent Chambers and Outer Temple Chambers, the bar has shown limited enthusiasm for that initiative.