Revamped portal is a glitzy marketing bid that is bound to raise temperatures across the profession
Bar chiefs have backed the re-launch of an online direct access website aimed at the public in a move that could ratchet up antagonism between the two main branches of the legal profession.
The site acts as an online register of barristers qualified to take instructs direct from laypeople and is pitched at clients looking to avoid going through solicitors.
Barristers have to pay an annual £100 fee to be listed and the site (pictured below) has replaced the Bar Council’s earlier register. The portal is described by officials as “the main hub for consumers seeking to find a direct access barrister”.
At a recent re-launch event in Manchester, Bar Council Chairman Alistair MacDonald QC described the portal as demonstrating that “innovation in the barristers’ profession is clearly alive and well.”
MacDonald went on to say:
The Direct Access Portal was designed with one aim in mind; to make it easier for the public to access the quality services that barristers provide. There are now thousands of barristers able to provide legal advice and other services directly to members of the public, potentially saving them money in the process. This portal will act as the point of access to these barristers.
Crime and family law specialist Beever — a 15-year-call junior at Fifteen Winckley Square chambers in Preston — said:
Our motivation for creating the Direct Access Portal was not to make a profit but to simply make life easier for anyone looking for a barrister. There is no catch. Consumers don’t have to pay a fee to find a barrister. The portal is free to use.
Beever and Whyatt — a property and financial disputes specialist at the same chambers, who was called in 1992 — developed and financed the portal jointly with Beever’s husband, a retired airline pilot.
The three have cut an “equal partnership” with the Bar Council, with each side allocating directors to the project.
The portal currently has some 300 direct access barristers listed.
The move will be seen as an aggressive commercial attack on solicitors, as the portal is a well-produced and hi-tech bid to lure clients away from them. However, the Bar Council is thought still to be smarting at the increasing numbers of solicitor-advocates qualifying with higher court rights and effectively encroaching on barristers’ traditional patch.
Responding to the portal’s re-launch, the Law Society — the body representing solicitors in England and Wales — issued a curt statement:
Solicitors provide vital support to clients in contentious matters. Clients have been able to instruct barristers directly for some time, but they may find that barristers are not able to give the full range of services and advice that solicitors can provide.