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Overcharged by a solicitor? Go to a barrister instead, says new direct access service


The Bar: 89% of public unaware of direct access

Barristers’ bid to persuade consumers to come direct to them for legal advice has stepped up with a new direct access service claiming that more than half of Britons think solicitors overcharge.

Absolute Barrister is the brainchild of husband and wife pair Simon and Katy Gittins, both barristers of eight years’ call, and claims to be able to halve the cost of some legal matters.

Having finished a trial phase, Ms Gittins said “we know there is demand for it”, and the company is now rolling out a public relations and marketing campaign.

She said the idea came from a belief that the high solicitor model is failing because it is “outdated, unwieldy and expensive”.

The ‘Solicitor Satisfaction Barometer’ polled a sample of 1,535 people and found that 54% of Britons – and “a staggering 42% of those working in the legal industry” – think solicitors overcharge. A third have faced time delays in solicitors’ handling of their case, 30% don’t understand their pricing structures and just 8% believe solicitors act quickly in the service they provide.

A fifth felt intimidated by the process and uncomfortable asking about charges, with one in eight admitting that when they used a solicitor, they were unsure what the solicitor did for their fees.

Overall, the company said, “the barometer reveals a concern across the UK with the solicitor model of legal advice. Almost one in 10 (9%) people said they didn’t trust the solicitor like they expected to and felt they hid things from them, didn’t understand the advice they were given, or thought they were trying to confuse them with legal jargon.”

The vast majority, however, were unaware that they could go directly to a barrister. “It is astonishing that 89% of people are unaware that going straight to a barrister is even an option,” said Ms Gittins. “Absolute Barrister aims to debunk the myths surrounding barristers and to make the whole process completely transparent.”

Users of the service pay both the barrister’s fixed fee and an administration fee to Absolute Barristers; barristers do not have to pay the company “so as not to create the impression of conflicting loyalties”, Ms Gittins explained. There are currently around 40 barristers on the panel, which will grow in line with demand.

Using a divorce settlement with a contested financial element as an example, she said an Absolute Barrister client could expect to pay £7,200, whereas the average when using a solicitor is £13,300.

The case is mainly conducted through an online portal and instant messaging; though Absolute Barrister will handle some of the administrative work, users will be expected to have a role too. Ms Gittins said: “It’s been surprising how willing people are to do some of the steps themselves.”

“We provide direct access to the foremost legal experts – barristers. Our approach dramatically cuts the costs and time involved in legal proceedings for clients. Fees are agreed up front so our clients know exactly where they stand and there are never any nasty surprises. Gone are the days of worrying over the cost of receiving a letter, a telephone call or photocopies.”