The Bar Council has begun work on providing central client account facilities for barristers, it emerged last night.
A working group chaired by incoming Bar Council chairman Michael Todd QC has already registered “considerable interest” from a number of potential providers of the service.
The move is just one example of the “investment in the future” that Mr Todd said both the profession and the government need to make to safeguard access to justice.
In a wide-ranging address to the Bar Council laying out his vision for his year in office, beginning on 1 January 2012, Mr Todd said the working group is looking at the feasibility of a service which would provide both public access barristers and, when allowed, Bar Standards Board-regulated entities with an escrow account facility for client monies. This would be administered centrally from one location by a third party.
He said barristers need to adapt their business models so they can better fulfil the needs and expectations of their clients, with some sets already investing to secure their position as independent providers of legal services.
Mr Todd said: “Many sets of chambers I have visited or talked to are establishing different ways of delivering legal services, be that through contracts with other legal service providers, through pairing arrangements with other chambers, or through block contracting arrangements; and they are looking at the types of vehicle through which they can most effectively and efficiently deliver those services.”
He has also been chairing a working group set to put forward proposals for the affiliation to the Bar Council of barristers’ clerks, practice managers and chief executives.
While the Bar has welcomed last week’s announcement by Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke postponing implementation of planned price-based competition for criminal defence services, he said the fact there is a lot more which needs to be done by the Bar.
“My view is that, for the Bar, investment in possible new ways of working is an imperative. We have no entitlement to work. We must compete for it. We must invest better to adapt, to change, and to flourish. The returns on such investment are, in my view, undeniable.
“On the other hand, and in another sense, investment is optional. We are, largely, a profession of self-employed individuals. It is for us to determine how best we think we can compete in the legal market. I, for one, do not say that you must change. I will not force it down your throats. But if you want to change, I will seek to ensure that the Bar Council will facilitate that change.”
Mr Todd also called for stronger support for pro bono work, a renewed emphasis on social mobility and a more effective Bar Council.