For a branch of the profession so generously endowed with brains (at least that what its members tell us) the bar’s thinking about how it will assure its future seems a little muddy.

On the one hand, delegates at last week’s bar conference were told to concentrate on the ‘unique selling point’ of ‘quality’.

On the other hand, Obiter spotted a strong emphasis on piling high and selling cheap. The launch of a Bar Council-backed website encouraging clients to skip solicitors and go to the bar directly was promoted as offering clients a cut-price deal.

A member of the audience at a session on direct access said his clients were ‘sick to the back teeth with solicitors’ charges’. He gave the example of one client who noticed that the barrister’s bill was £12,000 compared with the solicitor’s £82,000. ‘And you did all the work,’ the client reportedly told him.

Despite this, the bar hasn’t had much luck in promoting direct access. A former president of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks said the bar has tried to encourage the writers of TV shows like Silk to feature direct access in their storylines. ‘At the moment [Silk screenwriter] Peter Moffatt hasn’t taken our suggestion on board,’ he said.

And, ever the gentleman, bar chair Alistair MacDonald QC conceded that direct access will never make a clean sweep of the legal market. ‘Of course, there will always be work that is more suited to a solicitor, such as conveyancing or will-writing, or shoe-shining,’ he said. (Sorry – we made up the bit about shoe-shining.)