Two innovative legal businesses provide further evidence of the growing convergence of the bar and solicitor branches of the profession, enabled by the bar regulator’s ‘entity’ model.
They comprise a barrister's business which remunerates barristers in a similar way to solicitors; and a solicitor opting to register with the bar regulator to cut costs.
The businesses are among 44 entities now registered by the Bar Standards Board. Both opted for the model in part because they felt the two branches were gradually becoming fused.
Merseyside barrister Richard Gray told the Gazette that he decided to set up his civil practice, Elysium Law, as an entity, as he thought it offered a more ‘progressive’ way of running the business.
Gray is operating as a single-person entity but plans to bring in other barristers who would be paid a salary commensurate with their stake in the business.
He said: ‘If you have got a group of barristers who have got shares in their own company, it encourages cohesion among counsel to run the chambers.’
Gray said the current payment model, where barristers pay a percentage of their income to chambers, is ‘not tenable’. He said it has ‘bred resentment’ among barristers who have high incomes against those who contribute less to chambers.
’No other business works like that. If you are a solicitor, you use timesheets so there is always an incentive to work hard,’ he said.
He plans to set up his business as an online chambers in order to keep costs down. He said the overheads at traditional chambers are not compatible with the now financially straitened publicly funded bar. Elysium Law provides services in employment law, wills and probate, and tax planning.
Gray is also considering recruiting a solicitor to the firm, as he said there are advantages to having a ‘fused set’. He said: ‘While the rules for barristers and solicitors are different, our interests are the same and if we are under the same roof that would only enhance our work.’
Newcastle solicitor Lee Dowling (pictured) has opted to set up his business, LMD Law, as an entity in order to cut his overheads. The bar's mutual indemnity insurance and lower authorisation fees made it cheaper to be licensed by the BSB than the Solicitors Regulation Authority, he said.
Dowling said: ‘It does make a difference being able to keep costs to a minimum and being able pass the cost savings on to cost-sensitive clients.’
LMD Law serves small and medium-sized business in areas including litigation, property law and employment law.
Initially it will operate as a virtual firm, but Dowling said he is looking for small premises.
Although he has no firm plans to hire a barrister, he said the entity structure would allow the business to make use of the resources that members of the bar can bring.
Dowling said that while the bar would continue to focus on specialised advocacy, an ‘informal fusing’ of the two branches of the profession was already in progress.
Meanwhile, one of the barristers to set up an SRA-licensed alternative business structure claimed that clients are responding well to the business.
ARP Legal was set up by five barristers from 5 St Andrew’s Hill, London. One of the five, Ben Keith, said the firm had so far represented Sarah Tighe, the wife of Tom Hayes, during the Libor trial, and that it had worked on two cases involving the enforcement of foreign orders in the UK.
He said the model was ‘much easier’ than taking on direct access work, as more than one barrister could work on the same case, meaning the barristers have been taking on larger cases than before.