Whatever happened to the ProcureCo?

Remember the ProcureCo? Most have forgotten it, little more than two years after it was launched. We asked the Bar Council what happened to its big idea

The Bar: embracing change irrespective of the ProcureCo?

Launched by the Bar Council in April 2010 to great fanfare, the ProcureCo was meant to be the start of the evolution of business structures at the Bar.

It was a corporate vehicle to bolt onto chambers, through which barristers could bid for work, instruct solicitors and also bring clerks and others into ownership roles. As you will see below, a Bar Council spokesman insists that it was primarily aimed at criminal sets, but you would not think that if you look back at the original publicity (see our story, and the Bar Council’s press release).

Either way, after an initial spurt of enthusiasm, with Argent Chambers and Outer Temple Chambers making news with early ProcureCos, nothing was heard of it, while mention of the ProcureCo, including the model documents to create one, have all but disappeared from the Bar Council’s website – I’m told by the spokesman that the ‘Prepare for change’ campaign of which it was part was not carried over from its old site because the timing was “no longer valid”. So what has became of the ProcureCo? These are the spokesman’s e-mail responses:

Is the Bar Council still promoting the ProcureCo model?
“Whilst it was and has been used for other types of work, the ProcureCo model was being promoted primarily as a potential response to the anticipated round of criminal legal aid contracts, which opened up the prospect of direct contracting with the criminal Bar. The government’s decision to delay the consultation until 2013 diminished much of the urgency for chambers to resolve their thinking around this issue.

“However, it should also be noted that ‘ProcureCo’ is simply shorthand for a range of different models through which the Bar may look to offer its services now and in the future. The Bar Council has been calling on the Bar to invest in its future, and a key part of that call is considering what type of structure best suits chambers’ and individual practitioners’ requirements. It is clear that across a range of practice areas, the Bar is continuing to explore different business models, which the Bar Council will support them in doing.”

How many ProcureCos are you aware of?
“Members of the Bar, both individually and in chambers are in competition for work. Unsurprisingly therefore, a lot of developmental work on different models is not publicly available until launch.

“However, we are aware that in both civil and criminal areas of work, both publicly and privately funded, a great deal of work has been done in a number of chambers across England and Wales with a view to introducing new models through which legal services may be provided.”

Have you been disappointed by the apparent take-up?
“No – it is a matter for individual sets and members of the Bar to select a business model which best suits their needs. It is still early days; we don’t have any evidence to support that take-up has been low.”

Not overly illuminating answers, but the bigger picture is that barristers are seeing the need to change the way they work, with innovations such as Artesian Law and Riverview Chambers good examples, along with the plethora of direct access initiatives like Stobart Barristers. And in around 18 months’ time, entity regulation will arrive at the Bar, with barristers able to bring in non-lawyer owners should they wish. How much of this comes at the prompting of the Bar Council, rather than the market, is ultimately a moot point.



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