Public access barristers are emerging as a source of work rather than a threat to criminal solicitors, according to a lawyer at a top-100 firm that has seen a growing trend of referrals from the bar.
The solicitor, who asked not to be named, told the Gazette: ‘Of late we’ve had a number of cases come in from public access barristers who have been contacted directly by the public, but who have been uninterested in taking witness statements or doing the case preparation.’
Instead, the barristers are passing those elements of cases back to solicitors, in a ‘reverse referral’.
Increasing numbers of barristers have qualified to undertake public access work, enabling them to receive instructions directly from the public without going through a solicitor. A survey commissioned by the Bar Council this summer found that 50% of barristers will be trained to do public access work by the end of next year.
At present 4,400 barristers are qualified to accept instructions from lay clients, with one in five (20%) planning to complete the training. That means clients will be able to instruct nearly 7,500 barristers – half the entire bar.
But, the solicitor said: ‘While public access puts barristers in charge of the purse strings, when it comes to having to do case preparation, drafting witness statements, hand holding and finances, they don’t want to do it.’
Barristers, he suggested, now feel compelled to become public access trained, as ‘everyone else is doing it’, but they do not want to do the work normally done by solicitors.
A Bar Council spokesman said professional conduct rules require barristers to ‘continually assess’ if it would be in the best interests of justice, and the client, to instruct a solicitor. ‘It might be that part way through a case, it becomes apparent that the case is far more complex than previously thought, and that the client might not be able to cope with the demands of the litigation, which it may be that the barrister is not allowed to do,’ he said.