Direct Access Revisited: a simple guide

public access

If you were to glance back to the 20 May 2012, you would see my first blog concerning Direct Access. Some of my readers have asked me to share more insight into how Direct Access is working in practice – its potential -what to look out for – and how to develop a Direct Access practice.

The first step, of course, is to undertake the Public Access training and to ensure that you are recorded as Direct Access authorised on the Bar Council’s Public Access Directory. Remember that the rules in relation to Direct Access change frequently, so it is necessary to keep up to date with the public access guidance for barristers.

Some sets of chambers are especially well organised when it comes to public access. They have part of their web site dedicated to direct access. Most enquiries from the public arise from either a search of the Bar Council Directory, or from a simple web search. Without a clear and inviting profile on your chambers web page, potential clients face difficulty in finding you. You should also join the Public Access Bar Association, both for accessing information and making direct access contacts. Note that a number of barristers have set up their own individual, bespoke web pages to promote their practices (e.g. here). Both for sole practitioners and members of established sets, this offers a higher level of personal visibility for barristers who wish to undertake this work.

Next, it is important to determine precisely what market you are seeking to target. Whilst solicitors are familiar with the most direct route to the barrister of their choice, members of the public clearly do not have that expertise. Your marketing profile will determine how many hits you get and thus the number of enquiries for services. In my experience, members of the public seek you out either because they have heard of you, or because you appear to specialise not just in a particular field, but also share a special stand-point on it.

Administering a public access practice requires a different approach for chambers’ clerks. Here they may benefit from one of the Bar Council courses. The contract is key, and the management of fees requires careful thought to avoid handling clients’ funds. Here are some of the helpful guidelines and model client care documents.

The benefits from public access for clients are clear -they get to their specialist advisor and advocate from the outset. Their barrister will guide their case, advising on procedure, evidence, and the conduct of the case. The client can undertake the administrative tasks under guidance, avoiding excessive legal bills at hourly rates.

For the barrister, public access can be one of the most rewarding areas of practice – not necessarily in financial terms- but in the close working relationship with the client that is possible when you are guiding their case. Most importantly, you end up with the case that you would have wanted to run, rather than a pile of papers with critical omissions emailed the night before the hearing.

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Online legal

http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/

Photo courtesy of nakedsecurity.sophos.com

Jessops, HMV – and now Blockbuster. It seems that they could not compete against the on-line giants, such as Amazon.

Of our £23bn legal service marketplace here in the UK what part will eventually follow the ‘on-line’ trend, and how many of us left behind will become ‘Jessops’?

The Legal Services Act has given England and Wales one of the most liberalised legal markets in the world, so the historic constraints no longer apply here. Make a web search and you will already find classy ‘on-line’ legal services being advertised, be it an enterprising individual or a group of practitioners working together. On-line, they have a marketing reach second to none, and certainly massively more visible than traditional solicitors’ practices or barristers’ chambers. They have the advantage of being able cleverly to target an intended market. The on-line purchaser of legal services can search out a practitioner or group within certain specialties, examine their experience and track record, obtain market feedback, and book with the click of a mouse.

Like Amazon and unlike the Jessops, they have shed their expensive infrastructure of real estate shop windows, staffing and clerking levels – to work leanly with minimal expenses. Here is an immediate price differential of 20-50%, allowing for reductions and marketing offers.

It is not Tesco Law that we should fear. It is the established groups of dynamic, specialist practitioners who know exactly where their markets are and how to access and retain them.

When the boards go up at chambers’ windows, and the clerks are sent home, where will you be?… Invisible or On-line?

HMRC to investigate barristers

A man doing his taxes using a calculator and pencil on a white background

It came as a big surprise to the Bar. HMRC has identified the London Bar amongst their main targets for 2013.

The Chairman of the Bar, together with representatives from the Bar Council’s Remuneration Committee, rushed to meet with the HMRC top guns. ‘Why pick on us?’,  was the implication of the first question asked. But the answer was not what was expected. Whilst the big wigs thought that the motivation was big bucks, the truth of the Bar’s transgressions was humiliating.

  • Failure to change from the income tax cash basis to the earnings basis at the correct time;
  • Omission of the catch up charge instalments following that change;
  • Incorrect calculation of earnings due to mistakes in the assessment of work in progress and completed but unbilled work – recognition of debts, calculation of completed work (UITF40) etc;
  • Omission of ancillary income from returns (VAT of Self Assessment) such as income from property or authorship;
  • Failure to make returns (both VAT and income tax self-assessment);
  • Failure to pay tax (including VAT) when due;
  • Failure to notify chargeability to / register for one or more taxes (including national insurance contributions);
  • Continuing to charge VAT under a de-registered VAT number (the VAT number is often de-registered due to the individual failing to make returns).

As we approach that time of year when the VAT returns coincide with the tax returns, now is the moment to take stock – and perhaps get some professional help. Those who fail to make their tax returns and payments may just as well place a big flashing beacon on their file.