Eddie Stobart. A name synonymous with haulage, lorry spotters and a cheesy reality television series on Channel 5. Now they have moved into providing legal advice by putting members of the public in contact with learned counsel.
The "Stobart Barrister? website suggests that there is no point using a solicitor when you can "deal with a barrister direct?. Solicitors, the site says, are like family GPs, whose expertise is general, rather than specialist. Someone ought to tell them that, these days, very few solicitors dabble in different areas of law. With all the hurdles we have to overcome in a highly regulated profession, we have all tended to become specialists in our chosen field. Research conducted by the Judicial Studies Board in 2010 indicated that the largest individual category of work among the firms surveyed was the conduct of criminal litigation on its own.
Returning to the Eddie Stobart website, click on "bail applications?, where it says, "You normally have just one bail application at the magistrates? court and one before a Crown Court judge?. Perhaps the Bail Act doesn?t apply to them.
And when Johnny is refused bail, who deals with his girlfriend? Or his property? I wonder if counsel will go unaccompanied to see Johnny in the Scrubs.I doubt they even know how to book a visit, let alone provide advice on arranging visits to the client?s family.
Next, the testimonial on the website, about a case of failing to provide a specimen. Reading this left me confused ? and I am a solicitor. According to the testimonial, this lady was advised by a solicitor that she didn?t have a defence. Then a barrister came along, said she had a defence in law and proceeded to have a "full day trial involving a Newton hearing?. Err? Now I am really confused. So I guess she did plead guilty, after all? I rather doubt it was a Newton, far more likely to have been a "special reasons? argument.
Eddie Stobart Barristers is not a ProcureCo and was not established in response to the passing of the Legal Services Act 2011.Instead, they utilise the "direct access?provisions introduced in 2004, although their arrangements are unusual, in that paralegal support is actually provided by Eddie Stobart Services.
Both the Co-op and BT have launched similar services. Saga, Direct Line and the AA are believed to be considering similar moves.
I think readers of The Advocate will agree with me that solicitors are not afraid of competition or new ways of working.Take, for example, the influx of barristers onto the duty solicitor schemes.But we are opposed to dumbing down, particularly in an area of law where repercussions for the individual concerned can be so serious. We also feel the public should be fully informed when taking decisions about legal representation. There is no mention on the website of an entitlement to legal aid in criminal proceedings, nor of the fact that private representation in the Crown Court no longer results in an award of costs out of central funds if the defendant is not convicted.
What is needed in Criminal litigation
Criticism of the Eddie Stobart model has come from a (perhaps) surprising quarter. Michael Turner QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, recently gave a speech suggesting that such schemes prioritise profit over quality and lamenting the demise of many traditional solicitors.
Some areas of the law may lend themselves to direct access. Alternatively, a client may require advice on a specific issue. But Criminal litigation requires the expertise of a solicitor who will prepare the case thoroughly. Arguably, the job is more than half done when the advocate arrives at court: the matter is prepared and the advocate now has the ammunition to win the case.
Like the best retailers, solicitors also offer an "after sale service? and perhaps we should emphasise that more in our dealings with clients. And many readers of The Advocate will have client relationships going back, in some instances, decades and, again,we should perhaps be promoting this continuity.
The Stobart Barrister website trumpets access to an extensive national panel of barristers ? including QCs. Instead of spotting those ubiquitous green lorries, now we can spot m?learned counsel around the courts ? they will be easily identified by their green robes and perhaps customised green wigs. Maybe they will have names such as Gladys and Genevieve!
Meanwhile, my firm is exploring the possibility of diversifying into international haulage?.