Clients referred to barristers by solicitors were unaware that they had a choice of barrister, “nor did they feel able or equipped to make that choice”, a report for the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has found.
Most clients associated regulation of barristers with minimum professional standards and legal qualifications, but “hardly any” mentioned poor service.
Only 6% of those interviewed by IRN Research were able to name the BSB.
The report said: “Throughout the client journey there was limited client awareness of the choices available when selecting a barrister, the role of a barrister in the legal process, and a barrister’s specific duties and responsibilities.
“More work is needed on educating many clients on the options for choosing a barrister and on barristers’ specific roles and responsibilities.”
Researchers went on: “Many clients who are referred by a solicitor are referred to just one barrister: a barrister is chosen for the client without any client input and many referred clients are not aware they have a right to choose from more than one barrister.”
The report on the expectations and understanding of barristers’ clients said that, while referral to one barrister did not seem to have affected the “efficiency of the advice for most clients”, solicitors could do more to help clients understand barristers’ duties and roles.
“Solicitors could be asked to give at least two or three recommendations of barristers to their clients and direct them to some trusted information sources.
“This could encourage clients to undertake their own research and make an informed assessment of the quality or suitability of the barristers they are recommended.
“This primarily relates to the code of conduct for solicitors but it may also be an area where the BSB and SRA [Solicitors Regulation Authority] can explore solutions together.”
The report was based on 50 interviews with clients, along with focus group discussions involving 12 participants and five in-depth interviews with consumer support organisations.
Public access clients, of whom there were 12 in the interviews and four in the focus groups, were generally more confident and did more research on their barristers.
Comparison websites were “hardly used” by those needing to find a barrister, but focus group feedback suggested they would be used if available.
Most clients expressed “strong satisfaction” with their barrister’s approach to, and performance at, the court hearings, whether these were in person or virtual.
“When interviewees who had had an unsatisfactory experience were asked about their propensity to complain, several expressed that they had been worn down by the legal process itself, so the experience reduces their energy, motivation and willingness to complain – even if they were aware of where to direct their complaint.”
Clients starting an “unexpected and sometimes stressful” legal journey were “unlikely to dwell too much on regulation and complaints procedures”.
Most of them associated regulation with “a certain level of professional conduct and standards, plus the holding of appropriate legal qualifications”, but hardly any mentioned that it could also offer redress if the service was not acceptable.
Rupika Madhura, head of policy and research at the BSB, said: “This is an important piece of research which will help us gain a deeper insight into the experience of barristers’ clients.
“It complements others’ recent studies about consumers’ experience in the legal services market, and will help inform our work in various areas, in particular the review of the code of conduct expected of barristers.”