Monday, 23 November 2009

Just Because You Can...

In a move which seemed to surprise solicitors, the Bar Standards Board voted last week to approve some "fundamental changes" for barristers. The full press release is here but let me summarise:

  1. Barristers can become managers in LDPs
  2. Barristers can practice in more than one capacity at a time -i.e. as LDP managers and in independent practice
  3. Barristers are "discouraged" from being shareholders in LDPs for the moment, until some of the regulations are sorted out
  4. Barristers can form "Barrister only Practices" (BoPs - isn't that a great acronym!)
  5. Barristers will be able to work in LLPs and other barrister-only companies
Essentially the BSB is giving barristers some flexibility. Many commentators seem to think that this has given barristers the jump over solicitors whose regulator seems to be caught in an "all change is bad" loop at the moment - see James Dunning's take here.

However - will barristers take up this opportunity. Undoubtedly some will, particularly more junior crime practitioners. As I have said before, I can see the junior Criminal Bar almost disappearing.  Other barristers? That seems to be a different matter.

Barristers are the specialists of the legal world and are very bright people. I have little doubt that someone who has made a good career as, say, a barrister specialising in tax law, would be able to join a magic circle law firm. They would probably earn more and would probably have a larger support network. And yet they don't do that. Barristers are self employed because they want to be self employer. If they wanted to be working in a business with other types of lawyers, they have plenty of opportunities now. So I can't see why the new flexibility allowed by the regulator will change that.

I can see barristers using BoPs and I can see that some specialists might want to form a business working up and down "the chain" - working with insurers and solicitors, for example. I suspect, however, they will be in the minority.

Barristers will remain specialists - supplying top-end expertise to the profession and to clients. There is a reason that there are only about 14,000 of them working at the moment. Their specialist knowledge and experience will remain invaluable to other lawyers and to clients - but why would a law firm want to employ such a specialist when they can have the knowledge when required without the overhead of continuous employment (whatever form that employment took).

Just because they can form partnerships with solicitors doesn't mean that they will.

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