The Future of the Bar – in whose hands? – Marie Tay

Report on Lecture by visiting Professor at City University London, Stephen Hockman QC:
Legal Services Reform: the impact on the Bar – 5th October 2011.

Author Marie

Mention legal services reforms and you will definitely catch the attention of any barrister or solicitor in the room. And chances are, he or she will have plenty to say on the subject, as did visiting Professor at City University, Stephen Hockman QC, who offered a fascinating insider’s view of this red-hot topic in legal circles.

Since the implementation of the Legal Services Act 2007 and the Bar’s revised Code of Conduct, barristers have wondered what their future will look like in a post-Clementi environment filled with economic concerns. Especially now that the traditional boundary between barristers’ and solicitors’ work has been crossed, with barristers being able to carry out a solicitor’s work.

Stephen Hockman tells us that the route to successfully integrating in these circumstances lies in the hands of barristers themselves. While regulation only establishes a minimum standard, “in the end, the only way in which a client can be guaranteed a good service from his lawyer is if that lawyer is sufficiently well-trained and motivated to provide the required level of service.”

In view of Bar Standards Board (BSB) decisions, many unanswered questions are foremost in many a barrister’s mind. Questions of whether the Bar Council will agree to amend its constitution so that it can become an entity regulator and if so, which entity will it decide to regulate? Will the Bar in chambers decide to emulate solicitors in adopting partnerships as the predominant practice mode and what effect will this have on the ethos of personal responsibility? And if members of the Bar decide to practice in LDP rather than in Chambers or in bar-only partnerships in significant numbers, what long-term effects will this have on the Bar Council in its regulatory role?

The game changer

No obvious answer is seen, but on the survival of the Bar as a separate branch of the legal profession, Stephen Hockman QC’s view is that much depends on how the BSB can effectively offer a sensible and cost-effective regime, under which lawyers can practise.

If that happens, the picture of the future painted looks optimistic – where advocates will come to see the Bar’s regime as the regime of choice for those who wish to practise advocacy and the Bar will continue to expand in size as it has done in the past. Only in this way, can the future of the Bar be guaranteed and certainly not through the alternate view taken by those who believe that the Bar should instead decline in numbers.

Unless barristers make themselves available in sufficient numbers to their solicitor counterparts and provide the kind of services solicitors wish to rely upon, then the Bar will gradually outlive its usefulness and wither away in the current legal climate.

The role played by the Inns of Court is also a crucial one in the future of the Bar. Barristers can take comfort in one advantage inherent in their identity – one recognised in the Legal Services Act – that a barrister is defined as someone called to the Bar by an Inns of Court. It is also the Inns that provide the training, motivation, inspiration and examples of excellence to barristers on which ultimately the Bar’s future success lies.

And indeed, no better description befits the Inns of Court and the role played by barristers themselves than in the concluding excerpt read by Stephen Hockman QC from a book published by the Bar Council in 1989 (Quality of Justice: The Bar’s Response) in response to green papers containing reforms for the justice system in England and Wales. Written by a retired solicitor who argued against the fusion of barristers and solicitors in an resounding finale, it states, “The Inns of Court may seem mysterious places to most of us. But they produce the goods: a fearless judiciary and formidable advocates.”

Stephen Hockman QC was called to the Bar in 1970, took silk in 1990, and has been Head of Chambers at Six Pump Court since 1996 (since earlier this year jointly with his colleague Peter Harrison QC). He was a member of the Bar Council for approximately a decade concluding with a year as Chairman of the Bar in 2006, the year in which the draft Legal Services Bill emerged. Stephen is also visiting Professor at the City University, and a member of the Advisory Council of the City Law School.

Marie Tay is a former copywriter and editor who has just begun her GDL at The City Law School.

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