Making the Right Choice

Any barrister will tell you that part of the reason they pursued that career was because of their passion for justice. It’s in our DNA and can be illustrated by the fact so many barristers give up their time pro bono to ensure people have access to justice when they need it.

It is that same ethos that led to me, fellow barrister Mike Whyatt and my husband, David, to set up the Direct Access Portal. Our motivation was not to make a profit but to help people understand that they had a choice about who their lawyer could be.

There is no catch. Consumers don't have to pay a fee to find a barrister on our online directory. The portal is free to use.

We originally never envisaged that it would end up working in partnership with the Bar Council, the national representative body for barristers in England & Wales. It was never part of a master-plan, but here we are in partnership with it and we are delighted to have the organisation's weight backing this barrister-grown innovation.

Can I use a barrister?

Traditionally, members of the public and small businesses had to go through a solicitor in order to access the services of a barrister, who are experts in advocacy. However, since major changes to the rules in 2010 it has become easier for clients to now go directly to a barrister, not just for advocacy services, but for legal advice too, thus reducing their legal fees in the process.

Until now, the problem for the public has always been, where can I find a barrister?

The portal, is an online register, and is now the main hub for consumers seeking to find a direct access barrister to help them deal with legal problems.

There are now thousands of barristers able to provide legal advice and other services directly to members of the public, potentially saving them money in the process. This portal is the point of access to these barristers.

It can also be quite daunting, taking that first step to speaking to a barrister about a particular legal issue, whether that be a matter concerning your family, property or your business, or even an employment issue. There is also the question of cost.

The vast majority of barristers are self-employed, although they, largely, operate from chambers, in which a number of barristers share premises. This can result in low overheads meaning that barristers’ rates are often very affordable to members of the public and small businesses who need advice.

Barristers are experts in disputes and, in turn, also understand how to avoid disputes reaching the court room. If a legal matter does get that far, they are well equipped and qualified to represent businesses in the court room, or before tribunals. Barristers are robustly regulated, insured and have gone through a rigorous qualification process to get to where they are.

Complaints against barristers are very low in number. Statistics from the Legal Ombudsman show that in 2014/15 just 4.6% of all complaints about lawyers were against barristers. Part of the reason there are so few complaints is because of rules which prevent barristers from handling client money. The Bar Council, the Bar’s representative organization, operates an escrow account through BARCO. When using BARCO the client, an individual or a small business, is able to put money into an escrow account so that its money is never directly held by the barrister until the time for payment of those fees arises.

The portal also lists mediators should anyone using the site need mediation rather than legal advice or legal representation. Many barristers are trained mediators, which is why it makes sense to list mediators on the portal. It puts all the available services in one place.

In the past, barristers were perhaps perceived as the lawyers in wigs, represented in countless television dramas such as Rumpole of the Bailey or Judge John Deed. Although we are still perceived as the nation’s top lawyers, we are now more accessible than ever before. The Direct Access Portal makes us even more approachable.

Pru Beever, barrister and co-founder of www.directaccessportal.co.uk