One question I often get asked is whether a Barrister can be instructed directly, or does one have to go through a Solicitor initially? Contrary to popular belief, a person can come directly to a Barrister for legal advice and representation. There several compelling reasons you should explore this option, should you find yourself being investigated by authorities and/or regulators.
For many, the very idea that individuals can access the services of a Barrister may come as a surprise. While it was traditionally the case that to engage a Barrister did indeed require a Solicitor acting as an intermediary, in 2004, the Public Access Scheme made it possible for the first time in a century for members of the public to instruct Barristers directly.
What is the difference between a Barrister and a Solicitor?
The services and expertise offered by a Barrister and a Solicitor strongly overlap, and in fact have become narrower in recent decades, but there are key distinctions to be aware of. Barristers specialise in providing specialist legal opinion, preparation of court documents, and advocacy (putting a client’s case to a Court); while some Solicitors do provide advocacy, they will typically defer this to a Barrister, especially in cases involving higher levels of the Courts. But both Solicitor and Barrister can offer expert legal advice based on your circumstances, and draft legal documents for clients (e.g. a Will).
Why engage the services of a Barrister directly?
Barristers can fulfil the role of a Solicitor in many cases, and therefore by directly engaging the services of a Barrister, you will
only be paying for the expertise of one law practitioner. Also, as you will be dealing with one person in relation to your case, any time delay associated with the traditional Barrister – Solicitor relationship is removed.
Those wishing to seek the representation of a Barrister may be unsure if their matter is suitable for direct engagement, as in some cases, the expertise of a Solicitor is indeed required. In general, the Public Access Scheme enables direct access to a Barrister in all case types, except for those funded by Legal Aid. It may be the case that some more complex cases may not be a strong fit for this method of seeking legal representation, but if you are unsure, speak to a Barrister, or their clerk, who will be able to advise you.
For which legal needs can I engage a Barrister directly?
Barristers can provide a wide range of services including:
- Providing expert legal advice and analysis
- Legal work required before the commencement of litigation
- Negotiation with the other side
- Bringing appeals
- Hearings before a tribunal
- Trials without issues of fact
- Cases involving points of law rather than fact
- Contentious and non-contentious cases
How do I instruct a Barrister directly?
The process of directly instructing a Barrister is remarkably straightforward. The Bar Council recommends in the first instance, you should speak to a Barrister who specialises in the area of law your case falls into (i.e. fraud) or their clerk, outlining your legal matter. If they believe your situation is potentially suitable to be taken on, you will be asked to send written instructions outlining the facts of the case. At this point, it will typically be necessary for the Barrister to verify your identity before proceeding. Based on this information, the Barrister will make a proper assessment of whether your case is suitable for direct access.
If your case requires the expertise of a Solicitor, the Barrister must inform you of this fact and may be able to recommend one to you.
The next stage will be the client care letter, which outlines the agreement between you as the client, and the Barrister, as your legal representative. This will lay out in detail the work to be undertaken on your behalf, the costs associated (including when this will be due), and any other terms.
Barristers do not have a fixed sliding scale of costs for the services they offer; rather they will agree upfront a fee based on the services being provided, the time these will take, the complexity of the case, and the level of experience of the Barrister. It is important to remember that all Barristers are required to act with complete integrity, and in a manner that is ethical and honest, within the Bar Standards Board Code of Conduct. Therefore, the fees charged must be commensurate and competitive with the market for legal expertise.
For clients eligible for legal aid, a Barrister should advise you to seek the services of a Solicitor, as they are not able to request public funding on your behalf from the Legal Services Commission.
Directly accessing the expertise of a Barrister is now common practice for those seeking justice and/or expert advice. Barristers have traditionally been instructed by Solicitors to provide a legal opinion in cases, or provide assistance in regulatory request matters; however, many clients now see the considerable benefit of partnering with a high-calibre legal representative directly. Not only are the costs lowered as a result, but the lines of communication are also simplified, meaning clients can keep a strong handle on what is happening in their case or regulatory investigation.
If you are considering requesting a Barrister to assist you with your case, a telephone call with a Barrister of your choice, or their clerk will quickly confirm if they can help you.
Tanveer Qureshi is a Legal 500 barrister, specialising in ASA compliance, business to business fraud, health and safety, food standards, civil litigation, and corporate crime. If you require legal representation, please contact directly on 020 3870 3187.