“Widespread change” is yet to happen at the Bar, with only a small minority of barristers planning to change the way they work or charge fees, a report for the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has found.
Despite the presence of “strong drivers for change”, such as competition from solicitors and increased direct access work, the report said this did “not necessarily equate to a need or desire for a new approach to the delivery of legal services by barristers”.
The report, by Pye Tait Consulting, found that only 8% of barristers planned to change the way they received instructions, 7% their chambers’ governance structure and 5% their fee structure.
New, innovative barrister organisations were more likely to offer fixed fees, have an “agile and flexible” governance structure and make greater use of technology, but these attributes could be adopted by traditional structures.
Dr Vanessa Davies, director-general of the BSB, said: “The chambers model seems likely to continue to serve consumers well in the future but our role as the regulator is also to enable barristers who do want to innovate to do so, through flexible regulatory arrangements.”
She said around half of the chambers which responded to the survey, and two-thirds of non-chambers firms, said they already included details of their fee options and structures in their marketing materials.
Although most respondents did not envisage the market changing the way services were delivered “in the near future”, recent developments “may require the Bar to adapt further”, Dr Davies suggested.
“The UK leaving the European Union, reform in the courts and tribunals service and the issues of unmet legal need and lack of consumer understanding of the legal services market, which were highlighted in the Competition and Markets Authority’s recent study of legal services – published after this survey had taken place – represent challenges for us all to meet.”
The report was based on a mixture of desk-based research, workshops, telephone interviews and an online survey with 199 organisations employing barristers. Among them were 121 chambers, 27 BSB-regulated entities and 12 SRA-regulated alternative business structures employing barristers.
The report highlighted a series of risks facing the BSB as regulator, including the increasing threat from cybercrime, requiring barristers to spend more on software, on maintenance and insurance.
Outsourcing, particularly by firms which were not chambers, raised concerns about data security, “reduced control over quality and adherence to regulations”.
Researchers said greater use of technology risked “creating a disconnect with the consumer” and as direct access work was forecast to increase, consumer relationships would be important.
They said decisions at firms which were not chambers could be “taken more quickly due to a more flexible structure without management committees and with significant input” from non-lawyers, and this type of structure could change quickly.
“The risk is that the BSB (or other regulators as relevant) may find it harder to monitor such changes in ‘real time’ and consider impacts for risk and regulations accordingly.”
Meanwhile, the rise of fixed fees, often linked to the increase in direct access cases, raised the risk of “under- or over-selling”, with the evidence suggesting it was difficult to calculate them.
The report said the increase in direct access work created a need for a different marketing strategy.
“Around 18% of survey respondents plan to increase their marketing spend over the next five years, but this may not be substantial – two-thirds of that 18% will increase spend from less than 1% of turnover to between 1% and 10% of turnover.
“Not all marketing materials contain information about fees or complaints procedures, which could improve client knowledge and understanding at the outset of their case.”
The BSB licensed its first alternative business structure, a combination of barristers from 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings (2DJB) and football agents, earlier this month.
VII Law – which started life last year as a BSB entity – is working alongside VII Management, a sports, entertainment and media business set up by George Gros, one of the partners of the law firm.