Society and bar pledge to work together on contract terms

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The Law Society and the Bar Council have issued a joint statement on the controversial standard contractual terms of business between barristers and solicitors, marking a detente between the two branches of the profession.

The new contractual terms took effect from 31 January, replacing the commonly used terms of work and the withdrawal of credit scheme, and enabled barristers for the first time to sue for unpaid fees.

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The publication put the two branches of the profession at loggerheads and precipitated a practice note from the Law Society advising solicitors to protect themselves against the terms, which the Society said were drafted in favour of barristers and put solicitors at a disadvantage.

The Bar Council responded, saying that it was ‘surprised and disappointed’ by the tone of the Law Society’s publication.

This week’s joint statement marks a mellowing of relations between the two representative bodies with a commitment to work together to ensure contractual terms of business are acceptable to both sides.

Bar chief Maura McGowan QC and Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: ‘The two branches of the legal profession must work together to ensure the terms on which we do business with each other are fair and appropriate to barristers and solicitors.

‘That is our common goal. It is in the public interest and it is in the interest of the profession to achieve that outcome.’

They said: ‘We very much hope that differences which have arisen between the Bar Council and the Law Society in relation to the terms on which barristers and solicitors do business with one another can be overcome.’

The statement said that the contractual terms were intended to provide a ‘flexible framework’ for solicitors to instruct members of the bar and ‘appropriate protection for barristers’ for work they have done, without placing ‘unnecessary constraints’ on either side.

‘The Bar Council and the Law Society will be working together in the coming weeks to ensure that the contractual arrangements on which members of the profession do business address the issues which have been identified between us and to promote our common goal, which is in our clients’ and our professional interest.’

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