The Bar Standards Board has finally submitted its application to regulate new business entities – but they fall short of alternative business structures.
The move will allow BSB-regulated barristers to set up companies or partnerships and enable publicly funded barristers to contract directly with the Legal Aid Agency, taking control over work away from solicitors.
Following moves to increase public access and rule changes allowing barristers to conduct litigation, the announcement is the latest sign of the bar's encroachment into areas formally reserved to solicitors.
A regular report from the director of the BSB, Vanessa Davies (pictured), submitted to the board yesterday, revealed that the regulator submitted its application to the Legal Services Board last week.
The BSB has sought to regulate entities providing specialist advocacy, litigation and legal advice. Barristers doing publicly funded work will also be able to form entities allowing them to contract with the Legal Aid Agency.
The LSB had 90 days to decide whether to approve the application.
Davies said that ‘the implementation of the regulatory regime will gather pace’ now the application has been made. She revealed that a project board has been established to develop ‘operational systems’ for entity regulation.
Davies said the early focus will be on developing the authorisation process, the decision-making criteria and an online application form. 'These are critical tools which determine other aspects of the scheme such as resource requirements and the authorisation fees,’ she said.
Events will be held to brief the profession on what types of entities the BSB will be able to regulate, requirements for authorisation and what the process for decisions will be.
Davies told the board: ‘One of the key factors in the implementation timetable will be the Legal Aid Agency contracting timetable and ensuring that the BSB is able to take decisions in respect of those entities that wish to be authorised by the BSB in order to contract with the LAA.’
BSB chair Lady Deech said: ‘Once our application is approved it will help new advocacy-focused business models emerge and flourish, which in turn will increase client choice.
‘Barristers will be better placed to come up with new and innovative ways of providing legal services. This is good news for the public.’
A Law Society spokeswoman said: ‘Competition in the provision of legal Services is one of the intended outcomes of the Legal Services Act and the Law Society has no objection to that if it provides benefits to consumers in terms of greater access and choice to those services.
But she said: ‘It is important that there is a proper level playing field and that any new licensing authority entering the market requires and maintains the same high standards as solicitors.
‘Regulating ABSs involves very different skills from regulating individuals and we would question whether the BSB has the skills to do this successfully.’
The BSB expects to begin regulating entities in 2015.