Thursday 17 May 2012 by Catherine Baksi

The logistics company known for its distinctive Eddie Stobart lorries has launched a legal service to help the public cut the cost of legal disputes by linking clients directly with barristers without the need for a solicitor.

Stobart Barristers, part of the Stobart Group, says it has a panel of over 1,000 barristers, juniors and QCs, across the UK offering businesses and individuals help in all areas of law. It provides a fixed-fee service, through a 'pay-as-you-go' model during the litigation process, giving the client control of the process and enabling them to end it after each stage.

Stobart's business model spurns the structures introduced by the Legal Services Act. It is not a ProcureCo and chief executive Trevor Howarth, who is group legal director, said it has no plan to become an alternative business structure. Instead, Stobart Barristers operates under the direct public access (DPA) legislation introduced in 2004, which licensed direct access to barristers.

Howarth told the Gazette that the Stobart Group has itself instructed barristers without using solicitors since 2008, cutting legal costs by 50% 'on a conservative estimate'. He said over the years, the company has honed the model, which is suitable for private individuals as well as companies, and is now offering it to others.

The venture aims to achieve a £10m turnover in its first three years, Howarth said. A sister company, Stobart Support Services, provides the necessary paralegal services to support barristers and help prepare cases, and Stobart Group will provide the marketing service.

Howarth pointed to research carried out by the Populus Omnibus in April, which showed that 55% of the 2,036 adults interviewed were put off pursuing legal action due to uncertainty over total costs and 36% said the lack of control of a litigation process would stop them taking action. He said just 14% were aware of DPA legislation and only 22% of people said they would know how to engage a barrister without using a solicitor.

Howarth said: 'Our fixed-fee, pay-as-you-go approach gives back control to the individual client and for the time they can stop the process at any stage. From the bar's point of view, they don't have the infrastructure or ability to provide the preparatory and litigation work, or the marketing, so we provide that,' he said. 'We are one of the first companies to look at the bar and see the benefits it offers,' he said.

But he added: 'We are not offering it to the bar at large, only to selected barristers that we want to work with. All panel barristers have to be licensed to make public access work.'

The group's website explains why the FTSE 250 transport company is offering the service, stating: 'We hate waste. We work hard to minimise non-productive time and maximise the utilisation of our fleet. It's the same with the law - we think dealing with legal issues the old way is just wasting money.'

The site features a promotional film featuring Mark Windgate, known to viewers of TV series The Bill as DC Carver, says the service 'saves times, money and worry compared with doing it the old way. You've got nothing to lose except the solicitor's bill'.

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