Last week’s landmark development in legal regulation is a further milestone on the road to one profession uniting solicitors and barristers.
That is the controversial view of civil and commercial law barrister, Richard O’Sullivan, who runs one of 13 businesses newly authorised by the Bar Standards Board as a ‘BSB-regulated entity’.
Solicitor Mark Johnson (pictured) is also among the 13. Johnson opted to license his business, Elderflower Legal, as a single-person bar entity because he values a more stable insurance market and is seeking more ‘proportionate’ regulation than he says he would have faced from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Johnson said the ability to obtain insurance through the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund was a key attraction. ‘In my last practice I was aware of the turbulent insurance market for solicitors. Premiums varied and although at the beginning there were lots of different insurers these quickly dwindled.’
O’Sullivan said: ‘The way the profession is going is towards [becoming] effectively fused’. He does not rule out hiring solicitors – which is the intention of Westminster Chambers, a partnership of two barristers and the only non-single-person entity on the list.
Westminster’s founders said it opted for that business model so it could employ solicitors, which a spokesman said would allow it to become more streamlined.
Ashley Murray, a divorce finance remedy barrister, also said hiring solicitors was an option. He made the move to be ‘on the cutting edge’ as he feels the old chambers model is dead.
Last week’s development will also reignite concerns about so-called ‘regulatory arbitrage’ where, given a choice, businesses opt for the regulator they consider to be most congenial and lightest-touch.
The SRA has described regulatory arbitrage as ‘highly undesirable’. However, super-regulator the Legal Services Board told the Gazette that when licensing regulators the board has ‘strict tests’ to ensure there can be no ‘race to the bottom’.
*This article was updated to change the error where we described Richard O’Sullivan as a family barrister.