Criminal legal aid giant Tuckers is encouraging other solicitor practices to sign up to a new platform to bypass traditional barristers’ chambers when instructing advocates for magistrates and Crown court hearings.
Crime Diary is an internet service that the firm says makes it easier for solicitors to instruct advocates directly.
The system gives barristers and solicitors access to an online diary, which would show firms which advocates are available at which courts.
When a barrister is instructed, firms provide clerking services in exchange for a fee ‘commensurate’ with the services provided, using the historic chambers rent of 20% as a benchmark.
Adam Makepeace, Tuckers’ practice director, said the technology had been driven by the decline in work and fees in criminal law.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention. If there is less money in the pot, you look for more innovative solutions,’ he said.
‘When you conclude that the services that we are providing to our existing in-house High Court advocates are the same services that are being supplied to barristers in chambers, you question why both layers of administration exist in a sector that can ill afford to duplicate costs.’
The first challenge, he said, is getting enough firms on board, which he hopes will then attract more barristers to sign up to use the product.
‘If we are asking a barrister to give up that security [of chambers] the challenge is to create a catalogue of work that is sufficiently attractive to the best independent advocates,’ Makepeace said.
Already one criminal solicitor firm has signed up to use the product, with five or six London-based firms interested in joining, and up to five outside London, he said.
Makepeace stressed that the product was not an attack on the bar, and not a reaction to the Criminal Bar Association’s decision not to back direct action against legal aid cuts.
‘If anything I delayed the announcement because of concerns about undermining the unity between solicitors and the bar,’ he said. ‘If barristers perceive this as an attack on the bar and do not engage with this model then I feel they are betraying themselves.’
He also said that the technology did not mean Tuckers has abandoned using chambers.
‘At the moment it is a journey rather than a light-switch,’ he said.