Stobart Barristers – the most controversial new business of the Legal Services Act era to date – will no longer provide legal advice to the public, Legal Futures can reveal.
It follows the departure of founder Trevor Howarth to run separate alternative business structure One Legal.
In a statement to this website, the Stobart Group said: “With Trevor Howarth leaving to [run] One Legal and changing regulations that make the Stobart Barristers business model less attractive, Stobart Group will focus the activities of Stobart Barristers solely on internal group legal matters and One Legal will progress any outstanding requirements of external customers of Stobart Barristers.”
This marks a return to the model of barrister advice to the company that spawned the public-facing service.
Mr Howarth told Legal Futures that the regulatory change referred to was that direct access barristers now have to take greater responsibility for issues such as client care, meaning an intermediary like Stobart Barristers cannot manage the relationship between barrister and client in the same way as before.
In light of this, closing down the service “was probably the right thing to do”, he said, even though the model had worked “extremely well” in the two years it had been live. However, he acknowledged that extending the Stobart brand to legal services “was challenging at times”.
One Legal – the creation of which was revealed by Legal Futures last year – will have a particular focus on criminal work, with bids for legal aid contracts likely, although it is working in other fields too. Last year Mr Howarth caused a furore by suggesting that Stobart Barristers would bid for a contract.
He said attracting external investment is a “major part” of the business plan and the advantage One Legal has is to start with a clean sheet and “no legacy debt”. There will be a strong focus on IT and video hearings, and controlling the firm’s “fixed overheads”, he explained.
The firm currently has 10 staff, three of whom are qualified lawyers, but Mr Howarth predicted ongoing recruitment.
It is possible to attract external investors to criminal law, he insisted: “If you can demonstrate a return on investment, that is what investors are looking for.”
Last week, the Court of Appeal overturned a ruling that Mr Howarth and a former colleague be committed for trial on contempt charges brought by a litigant in person.
The Stobart Group has restructured in recent months, selling a majority stake in the famous trucking business to Eddie Stobart’s son, and focusing instead on its infrastructure and support services divisions.