Whatever happened to the ProcureCo – part 2

Ian Dodd of the Bar Consultancy Network responds to our article earlier this week on the apparent disappearance of the ProcureCo concept a little over two years after the Bar Council launched it with great fanfare

Dodd: the Bar could adapt to contracting but can’t accept it will happen

The Legal Futures article on ProcureCos earlier this week asked some simple questions but posed some difficult conundrums.

Two years ago the Bar Council proposed the construction of ProcureCos as an answer to the then forthcoming advent of competitive tendering for legal aid work in crime and family. This was a fatally flawed device but was, thankfully, a start in getting the Bar to think about the unthinkable future. Sadly, few at the Bar have responded positively.

There are two reasons the Bar hasn’t done anything about the bleak, dystopian world they’ll have to inhabit one day. The first is that they simply don’t believe that competitive tendering will come. Why should they? Three times in the last 10 years the Ministry of Justice has promised this iconoclastic way of working and, three times, they’ve failed to deliver. Ken Clarke’s climbdown in December last year was a disappointment after so much preparation but, compared with all the work done for the proposed 2010 trials in Manchester and Avon, it was a side-show.

The second reason is that the Bar just don’t seem to know how to prepare for this. Despite the foregoing, it will come. Given a triple-dip recession and continuing cuts in everything else, legal aid will have to take its turn. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, biting next spring, will herald the way.

The Bar can handle the infrastructure changes need to be able to compete for a legal aid contract; they’re smart people. That they haven’t started, though, is a function of their inability to accept its inevitability. There’s a lot to do. IT – including cloud computing and more powerful servers than the normal SBS ones currently installed – invoicing instead of antediluvian fee notes, and management structures are only just the start.

Despite the Bar Standards Board’s code of conduct quite plainly saying that timed records of each element of a case need to be kept, very few chambers have adopted a time-recording system and discipline, even though both of the available chambers software/diary systems offer this and there is a raft of other time-recording systems available.

Without it, of course, there’s no way of being able to start to calculate if any piece of work actually makes a profit, This seems to be a confusion to some at the Bar inasmuch as their self-employed status allows them, and quite acceptably so, to expend as much time as they feel professionally required on a case without referral to anything else but their own, personal income. In the new world order, regrettably for some, profit will become the determining factor

So, it’s culture that needs to change. That’s the big ‘ask’. Given the Bar’s grim hold on universal democracy in chambers and a patent lack of corporate endeavour, it’ll be hard.

There are those chambers who have already adopted a variant of ProcureCos, and were even before then Bar Council chairman Nick Green proposed them. There are those who are entering into open-book accounting and long-term joint ventures with clients. There are also those for whom legal aid work contributes little to their income (lucky them). However, for the of chambers who depend on legal aid for their survival, it’s a conundrum. How to match the traditional chambers structure with the future world?



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