Private and commercial clients have been able to instruct barristers directly through Public Access since 2004. However, in 2014, chambers are still only achieving, on average, public access work turnover levels of between 5 and 10%. Most of that work is actually generated through individual effort rather than from coordinated chambers or team activities.
We recognise that public access may not be suited to all barristers or fit into their skills and strategies and it will be interesting to see the level of take-up for conducting litigation – to be discussed in a forthcoming blog.
However, in our view, the majority of chambers are missing a trick in not developing public access opportunities sufficiently. The legal market is changing increasingly quickly and the Bar, as a whole, needs to look at every opportunity to retain market share; diversify into new markets and/or develop new areas of work.
Public access provides a palpable opportunity for barristers to widen their service and market base. Some clients are perfectly capable of fulfilling the role of a litigant in person (LIP). What those clients want is not only an advocate to represent them but also an adviser who can develop a clear case strategy and guide them through the litigation process as a LIP.
This market, if properly developed, need not compete with solicitors but should complement the solicitor/barrister relationship providing a unique opportunity to re-frame relationships with solicitors into a mutual referral relationship.
Those barristers that have already embraced the concept of PA have done so mainly because individually, they have organised themselves well with targeted marketing and by delivering high standards of agreed levels of client care.
We urge chambers to do the same although this will involve changing thought processes, mindsets, systems and skills development – the subject of our next blog.