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.