Barristers are to be allowed to operate through agencies and corporate vehicles under proposals released today by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
As things stand, employed barristers in a non-authorised body (that is, not regulated by a legal regulator) – such as in-house counsel, and barristers employed in central or local government or professional services/consultancy firms – are not allowed to supply legal services to clients of their employer without seeking a waiver from the BSB.
This is due to the BSB’s scope of practice rules. Its new consultation said: “For example, if an employed barrister wished to work for a non-authorised body (for example, a local authority, a large corporate body or a charity), it may no longer be possible for them always to be employed directly by that non-authorised body, as it is now common practice for such bodies to procure ‘in-house’ services through agencies.
“Barristers may also wish to provide consultancy services through companies wholly owned and directed by them (although the company itself would not be held out as providing legal services) with a contract for services in place between the company and the end user of legal services.”
The plan is to change the definition of ‘employed barrister (non-authorised body)’ so as remove “unnecessary restrictions on the way in which employed barristers can practice”, the consultation explained.
Last month we reported on a barrister who had set up a BSB-regulated entity so as to offer her services to City law firms through a company. But the BSB does not expect the proposed rule change to reduce demand from barristers to set up entities, even though to date many of these are single-person companies, as those affected by the change are generally seeking waivers rather than applying to create entities.
The BSB said this was the first step in a wider review of scope of practice restrictions. Director of regulatory policy Ewen MacLeod said: “We are seeking to modernise our arrangements for employed barristers working outside of authorised law firms, to reflect better how employers seek to procure these services.
“In doing so, we want to ensure that there are no unintended consequences of amending the rules.”