The Legal Services Board (LSB) has told a review of independent criminal advocacy provision that remaining barriers to barristers being able to more effectively compete with solicitors should be scrapped as quickly as possible.
And the chief executive of the board says that the legal professions needed to support advocates to move out of criminal work or expand their practice by diversifying into practice areas that were busier or more profitable.
The LSB was responding to the Review of the Provision of Independent Criminal Advocacy, set up by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last September, which is being led by Sir Bill Jeffrey, a former senior civil servant. He is due to publish a report and recommendations at the end of March 2014.
In its 15-page submission to the review, published on 17 December, the LSB said: “Proposed changes to remove regulatory barriers to the type of business barristers can engage in, so as to effectively compete with solicitors for advocacy work, should be progressed on the fastest possible timetable.”
It said that more providers were competing for less criminal advocacy work, at a time when less money could be earned from most legally aided criminal cases. It added: “In an increasingly competitive market, the current business model of the self-employed bar faces particular challenges.
“To be continually competitive, self-employed barristers need to consider further change to their business models. This could include increasing scale to drive efficiency, increasing utilisation by forming broader legal practices or utilising non-barristers to undertake lower level work at a lower cost.
“In some cases, this may mean forming ABS with employed solicitors. It may also mean operating chambers much more like a firm than a collection of individual businesses, with legal as well as administrative support. This could be achieved by employing paralegals to undertake work that is within their competence at lower cost.”
The LSB also recommended that professional bodies and training providers should help people affected by falling demand for criminal advocacy to diversify within the professions or exit from them, where necessary.
But it said there should be no attempt to force people into new business models if they believed they can make a more traditional pattern of practice pay, adding that what was important was that the service provided was of the “necessary quantity and quality.”
Chris Kenny, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, said: “Continued market liberalisation to promote competition between and within each branch of the profession and to allow new business structures is the intervention most likely to result in better value and better quality services.
“The challenge to the professions is to help advocates diversify their practice into other areas that are busier and/or more remunerative in order to move out of criminal work or supplement their practice. There is significant unmet demand for legal services in many areas, something which would be considered an opportunity in many other sectors of the economy.”
As the legal sector continues to evolve, the Milsted Langdon team can provide expert advice to barristers on business structures and business strategy issues, including diversification. For more information, please contact us.