A free online ‘community resource’ that enables direct access barristers to tender for clients’ work has been launched by the head of a London chambers.
Legal Futures was granted an exclusive preview of CallMyBarrister – the brainchild of 1 Gray’s Inn Square head David Malone – as it goes live today.
Mr Malone compared the “unique tendering model” to that of a dating website.
The website allows a user to confidentially post their legal issue anonymously and then registered barristers reply directly offering their services and effectively tender for the work. The normal client-lawyer relationship then proceeds away from the site.
It is free to access for the public and does not cost barristers anything to register and to use. Any revenue made through donations and advertising on the site will go back into the resource to improve the quality of the service.
Mr Malone said CallMyBarrister.com is a personal project not run in association with his chambers. The concept is not an “anti-solicitor model”, he argued, but is in response to government cuts and changes to the legal landscape.
“There is a growing public need and interest for a free and easily accessible service, in particular at a time of legal aid cuts, with Citizens Advice Bureaux, law centres and high street solicitors being driven out of business.”
He said it has taken almost 10 years for the public and business to have any significant awareness of direct access, with clerking models such as Stobart Law or MyBarrister, which allows users to browse the CVs of barristers, usually charging a barrister to use their service.
Mr Malone said a number of barristers, including one silk, were already in place to cover all practice areas and that he was confident more would sign up once the site was launched.
“There are 15,000 barristers in the country and we hope to have a lot more than any other competitor as we grow and become a central website to the legal profession. Nothing like this has been done before. It is unique, innovative and exciting. It is no different, in a sense, to a dating website.
“There are lots of different ways people can sign up for legal services and this is just one of many models out there. We think this will be popular for the public as direct access has proven already. I’m not an advocate for which is the right model; it is up to the consumer to choose. All I want to do is offer a choice.”
The Bar Council was provided with a prototype of the site to check for any compliance issues and has told Mr Malone that there are no breaches.
Mr Malone said the Bar Council had not seen a tendering model before and “took some time to consider it”.
He said: “I’m grateful to the Bar Council in allowing home-grown innovation to flourish – I believe they have done so because CallMyBarrister.com, as a free legal resource and tendering model, will be of immeasurable benefit to the community and to barristers.”
Only general facts are submitted about the case and all correspondence is confidential. Once the barrister and client decide to exchange details, the correspondence is closed and they continue to work in the normal way.
Mr Malone said: “It is not Match.com for barristers, but barristers need more clients and for clients it is the chance to meet barristers who can resolve their legal problem. Tendering for services in this way is quite common in other industries, now we are introducing it to the legal sector.”
Mr Malone is amongst the youngest heads of chambers in the country and was behind the first commercially successful ProcureCo in the country W1Law Ltd, bringing together his chambers with law firm Woodfines to win a contract to provide legal services to Lambeth and Southwark borough councils.
He said the idea for CallMyBarrister.com came during a train journey discussion with business partner and IT expert Joel Solon about the growing need for a free-to-use community based service that was better for both the client and the barrister.
Clients post the problem once, meaning barristers don’t get hundreds of unrelated queries and there is no obligation to choose a barrister.
The barristers contact the clients, removing the need for a clerk or other agent, and the need to pay a fee or commission.
Mr Malone added: “Clients receive the benefit being passed on in lower prices. This the first model which is truly designed as a direct access model for barrister bringing them to the open market.”