The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to gather evidence from solicitors on how they choose a barrister, including whether they offer their clients a choice – or even take account of a client’s views.
The commitment features in the BSB’s new research strategy, published this week alongside its new equality strategy.
The BSB said it wanted to address “evidence gaps around the approach of solicitors when choosing barristers for their clients”.
The regulator said: “Our evidence to date suggests that when individuals and businesses are referred to barristers by solicitors or other legal professionals, they are often offered no choice.
“We will gather evidence from solicitors as to what factors influence their choice of barrister, and/or the extent to which they offer their clients more than one recommendation, or indeed to what extent they take into account a client’s views when choosing a barrister.”
As part of its research, the BSB said it would be “reviewing whether regulation is needed to ensure greater transparency or choice” for clients.
Previous research had shown that, although there was now “greater price transparency”, individuals and businesses with legal problems usually had a poor understanding of the full range of services offered by barristers, particularly the scope to access services directly and the potential to unbundle.
The BSB said it also wanted its researchers to address “evidence gaps around the views of small business clients”, since until now the focus had been on individual private clients and small business may well have different priorities.
Meanwhile, work would continue to evaluate the impact of the transparency rules introduced by the BSB in 2019 and consider whether “additional regulatory action will be needed on transparency”.
On equality, the BSB said its researchers would be reporting on differential outcomes in Bar training examinations, as well as continuing to monitor differential outcomes in obtaining pupillage.
On recruitment and diversity, BSB researchers would undertake “a comparative study of the outcome of recruitment processes using traditional versus progressive recruitment techniques, to determine which techniques lead to more diverse outcomes”.
There would also be consumer research to investigate lower levels of satisfaction from some groups of clients, in particular those from minority ethnic backgrounds.
The equality strategy promised to set “mandatory requirements of the profession to promote equality, diversity and inclusion”.
It did not specify particular measures but, elsewhere in the strategy, the regulator said it would be “drafting a race action plan and implementing target setting and evaluation measures”.
It would also publish a thematic report on the findings of its regulatory return to highlight “good practice and recommendations for the profession”.
The BSB said: “Equality, diversity and inclusion issues differ across the Bar. The self-employed Bar has particular challenges associated with the decentralised nature of practice and the ability of chambers to address these issues.
“Meanwhile, the employed Bar is more diverse and operates in a different context. Indeed, the employed Bar may offer helpful lessons to chambers in how to be more inclusive.”
Mark Neale, director general of the BSB, said the new equality strategy showed the regulator’s “determination to continue our work towards a fairer and more inclusive profession in the public interest and to work in collaboration with all those who share our objectives”.