If you have cause to seek legal advice you will need to consider whether you need a solicitor or barrister, or both. The usual practice is to instruct a solicitor, who will then retain a barrister on your behalf, but in some circumstances it can save time and money to instruct a barrister directly.
The Law Society describes solicitors as “advisers who have direct contact with clients, combining legal expertise and people skills to provide legal advice and assistance in a range of situations”. Further details about the role of solicitors are available on The Law Society website here.
The Bar Council describes barristers as “specialist legal advisers and court room advocates. They are independent, objective and trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. They have specialist knowledge and experience in and out of court, which can make a substantial difference to the outcome of a case.” Further details about the role of a barrister are available on the Bar Council website here. You can search the Barristers’ Register on the Bar Standards Board’s website here.
Solicitors can represent clients in the lower courts (magistrates’ court, county court and tribunal), but can only represent them in higher courts (crown court, high court, court of appeal, supreme court etc) if they have had specialist training. Traditionally barristers could not accept instructions directly from lay clients (ie clients who are not legally qualified) but there are now two routes by which you can go directly to a barrister without having to involve anyone else.
The two routes by which barristers can now accept instructions direct from a lay client for the advocacy and advisory work are Licensed and Public Access. They are covered in more detail below.
Organisations or individuals that have an identifiable area of expertise or experience can apply to the Bar Standards Board to be licensed to instruct barristers directly. The licence holder can instruct any member of the Bar for advice, and in some circumstances, representation, on their own behalf or another’s behalf in the specialist area.
We are often instructed on this basis by organisations such as police forces, trusts and local authorities. All our barristers accept instruction on this basis.
The Public Access option enables any member of the public to instruct directly any barrister who has undertaken the necessary training and who is authorised by the Bar Standards Board to accept instructions on a Public Access basis.
The barrister’s role remains essentially the same as when they are approached by a solicitor or another intermediary. Barristers can advise you on your legal status or rights. Barristers can draft and send documents for you and can represent you in court, tribunals or mediations. Barristers can also negotiate on your behalf and can attend employment or investigative interviews and hearings where appropriate.
Because the barrister’s role is unchanged and there are limits on the types of work that a barrister can do, there are still some cases and situations in which you will need to instruct a solicitor or another intermediary as well as a barrister. However, for many cases the public access scheme allows you to go directly to the expert barrister for advice, representation and drafting.
A number of our team accept instructions under the Public Access route. In addition, a number of members of the team have completed the Bar Standards Board’s training course on the conduct of litigation, the role traditionally associated with solicitors.
What this means for clients
We have a long track record of working successfully with professionals – as well as in-house solicitors – at numerous NHS Trusts, banks, local authorities, schools and universities, medical insurance companies, police forces and other organisations.
We see this as a key strength. In particular, we are well-versed in the particular public and / or commercial concerns which arise for such clients and are experienced in tailoring our advice and approach accordingly.
Chambers & Partners comments “The members have diverse expertise and a very good knowledge of the landscape; they understand the repercussions that may arise for bodies.”
This is a clear advantage for clients, not only when we are working directly with non-lawyers within an organisation, but also when we are instructed on their behalf by solicitors, whether in-house or from private practice firms.