Junior barristers with less than three years’ practising experience are now able to accept work directly from the public without an instructing solicitor following changes to the public access rules that came into effect today.

The Law Society warned that direct access clients would receive less support than if they acted via a solicitor.   

Under the new rules set by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), barristers will have to complete up to 12 hours’ training and then be required to maintain a log of the cases they have dealt with, noting any problems that have arisen and seeking feedback from their clients.

The log must be made available to the BSB on request.

Existing public access barristers will have up to two years to undertake additional top-up training provided by the Bar Council and commercial training firm HJT or cease to conduct public access work.

Any barrister who undertakes public access work without meeting the additional training requirements will be in breach of the code of conduct and could be subject to disciplinary action, the BSB said. 

A small number of existing public access barristers may be eligible for a waiver from the top-up training if they are able to demonstrate ‘extensive experience’ of public access work and legal aid cases involving vulnerable clients.

The BSB’s head of professional practice Ewen Macleod said: ‘The new changes mean that clients will be able to access a broader range of public access barristers and can be more confident of the standard of service they will receive.’

Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: ’Additional training to help barristers meet the needs of clients whom they see on a public access basis is welcome. However, clients may find that barristers do not have the support systems or the resources to give the full service that solicitors can provide.

‘If clients see a solicitor who has been qualified for less than three years, that solicitor will be a member of a firm and supervised by a more senior solicitor who can step in immediately if needed, rather than wait for action by the regulator after the event.’