The Bar’s regulator will take a “cautious” approach to licencing alternative business structures (ABSs) and look closely at non-lawyer owners to ensure no “naughty” behaviour, but said over the weekend that there is strong interest in the possibilities on offer.
Speaking at the Bar’s annual conference on Saturday, Cliodhna Judge, the head of supervision and authorisation at the Bar Standards Board (BSB), said there has been an “encouraging” interest in barrister-lead ABSs, since the Legal Services Board gave it the green light to become a licencing body in March.
She told the conference that the BSB had received “numerous daily queries” as it waits for the legislation to permit it to licence the new entities.
Ms Judge said the regulator was ready to launch the new scheme “as soon as the order is conferred”, following the completion of an external pilot of the application process on Friday.
Six applicants took part in the pilot and, while feedback was still being collated, Ms Judge said “no major concerns” were thrown up.
When it came to assessing applications, Ms Judge said the regulator would initially adopt a “cautious” approach to licencing ABS, as it did with entities. She said the process would be reviewed regularly to ensure it was proportionate, targeted and evidence-based.
To allay the fears of those concerned that misconduct by non-lawyer owners could adversely affect standards and the reputation of the profession, she assured delegates that the regulator would “look closely” at the non-lawyer owners to ensure that “naughty” behaviour does not occur.
On the costs of the application process, BSB director Vanessa Davies said it would be less that of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, because the risk profile of applicants would be lower – ABSs would be confined to those doing the types of work traditionally done by the Bar and not hold client money.
Meanwhile, in her speech to the conference, Bar Council chair Chantal-Aimée Doerries said the body was preparing for the possibility of “significant reform of the regulatory regime for legal services” by setting up a working group, which includes representation from the self-employed and employed Bar, as well as a number of former chairmen of the Bar.
She also announced the launch of the Bar’s Wellbeing Portal, giving barristers, clerks and chambers staff access to guidance, tips, support and contacts for help on matters concerning wellbeing and mental health.
She said: “Being a barrister has never been an easy calling. It can be challenging, rewarding, exciting and great fun. But it is hard and demanding. I know this from my own practice. I have also met many barristers this year whose practice demonstrates the demanding nature of the job.
“The female barrister in her 30s from the north of England who has had a diet of sex cases over the recent years and who has had to digest the horrors of these cases. The young male barrister in London struggling with the loneliness which can sometimes be a feature of the job.
“The female barrister juggling family life, travelling to far-flung courts, and leadership responsibilities, all while earning much less on legal aid then many would consider reasonable.
“There was a time when this was simply accepted. We cannot make it easy, but we can recognise that there will be times when each one of us will need support, be it physical or psychological.”