Thursday 29 March 2012 by Catherine Baksi
A new business model allowing barristers to accept instructions through an agency route could help the bar claw back work from solicitor-advocates, a legal consultant has suggested.
John Binks (pictured) of the Bar Consultancy Network, a former manager at the Legal Services Commission, said a 'SupplyCo' model would give barristers greater control of fees in criminal work.
Current practising rules permit barristers to be in independent practice, and work within and have an ownership interest in an SRA-regulated business providing legal services, he said. Barristers working in such practices can therefore provide referral advocacy services as part of the activity of those entities.
Binks said that the services the entity can provide and the terms it can offer are freed from the ringfencing created by LSC payment structures and Bar Standards Board rules.
He said this removes the differentiation between solicitor preparation, which is paid under the litigator fee, and advocacy, which is paid under the graduated fee. 'The solicitor and barrister can work together on a case, organising division and work, and related fee income in a manner that is both more advantageous to the client and to their joint businesses,' he added.
In contrast to the ProcureCo model, advanced by others within the bar, and which would act as a model only for the procurement of legal services, the SupplyCo enables those using it to offer legal services.
Binks told the Law Society's legal aid conference last week that the SupplyCo model offered one way for the publicly funded criminal bar to claw back income from solicitor-advocates. In addition, he said this model would leave barristers better placed to bid for work under price-competitive tendering.
Binks dismissed increased direct access as the way ahead for the bar, saying: 'The bar won't get far with direct access.
'The bar must understand that dealing with clients direct is a skill, and a skill that most barristers don't have.'