The bar’s regulator has backed away from plans to require chambers to publish hourly rates and fixed fees on their websites, averting fears that transparency could spark a ‘price war’ among barristers.
The Bar Standards Board last night revealed that after consulting the profession it had dropped plans for barristers specialising in contentious areas to publish prices, opting instead to focus primarily on those undertaking public access work.
However, plans will be considered to require chambers’ websites to provide a link to regulatory information about members and to complaints upheld by the Legal Ombudsman and bar disciplinary tribunal.
The plans were approved during a Bar Standards Board meeting and follow a consultation on how to implement the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendations to improve transparency. In the light of the responses, the BSB said it would be ‘narrowing the scope’ of the requirements.
The preferred option is now to apply fee disclosure requirements to chambers with ’10 or more barristers’ and which provide ‘a significant proportion of their work on a public access basis’.
Under proposals cases will be re-categorised as ‘high impact’, for which price information will be mandatory, and ‘lower impact’, for which it will be discretionary. The regulator said it will commission further research on this.
Proposals were also approved to allow professional and/or lay clients to contact chambers to obtain a quote and for chambers to publish their most commonly provided services. Chambers will also be required to display the BSB’s logo on their website.
The BSB’s initial consultation, published in October last year, was criticised for suggesting the transparency requirements could apply to barristers undertaking referral work, in instances where a client was entitled to complain to the Legal Ombudsman, and potentially for those who work in contentious areas such as immigration, crime and family law.
Last year's Bar Conference heard fears that solicitors could start demanding that barristers accept lower rates in a supermarket-style ‘price war’ if chambers were forced to publish prices online.
The CMA initially recommended that price information should apply only to public access barristers.
Earlier this year, representative body the Bar Council said it had ‘significant concerns’ about the BSB’s proposals which ‘do not reflect the CMA’s intentions, or apply them to the specific position of the bar’. The Bar Council warned that the BSB should avoid creating a ‘taxi-meter approach to billing’ in which barristers are ‘driven towards standardised rates in a way which reduces, rather than enhances, competition’.