The bar is looking into a scheme to allow barristers to hold client money through proxies, the incoming head of the bar said in his inaugural speech last night.
Michael Todd QC, who will take up office in January, said he is chairing a working group led by the Bar Council’s member services team to examine the feasibility of a service that would provide entities regulated by the Bar Standards Board and public access barristers with an escrow account facility in which client monies could be placed.
The account, he said, would be administered centrally by a third party. He said there had already been ‘considerable interest’ from a number of potential providers of the service. Todd said it is ‘imperative’ for the bar to invest in new ways of working. He told the Bar Council: ‘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.’
He said the bar had to be ‘lean, cost effective and responsive’, adapting to meet challenges and adapting its business models to fulfil the needs and expectations of clients.
To that end he said nearly 5,000 barristers have completed public access training and ‘many sets of chambers’ are establishing different ways of delivering legal services, either through contracts with other legal service providers, pairing arrangements with other chambers or block contracting arrangements. They are looking at the types of vehicle through which they can most effectively and efficiently deliver their services.
Elsewhere in his speech, Todd said the bar still had to persuade government and society of its ‘real worth’.
He said: ‘In order to get the government to invest in the legal services sector, and in particular in the bar, we have to persuade and convince them and the general public of our worth, of our essential role in the administration of justice, and that we are a profession in which investment is not only desirable, but essential.’
Todd said: ‘Let’s be honest with ourselves, to the majority of the population of England and Wales the bar is irrelevant. Irrelevant that is, in the sense that they never use our services. Indeed, they never have call for our services. They don’t really understand what we do, what our values are, what our role is in the justice system, and what our value to society is. Putting it simply, they don’t really understand our relevance.'
Todd said the bar had to demonstrate that it is not simply an ‘elitist profession resistant to change drawn from a tiny and privileged section of society, providing services for the benefit of the few people who can afford them’.
And that, he said, is a ‘major challenge’.