How to use a direct access barrister?

Nick Isaac, barrister at Tanfield Chambers, explains how best to instruct a direct access barrister?  


You think you might want to instruct a direct access barrister, but are not sure how to go about it. Here are my suggestions and tips for helping yourself and the barrister you want to instruct. 

Work out what area of law your problem concerns – this might or might not be straightforward. Boundary disputes are dealt with by property barristers, divorce by family barristers, building disputes by construction barristers. These are reasonably logical. But other areas might be less obvious – wills are dealt with by Chancery barristers for example. Enter the problem you have as a search term, add the word "barrister” to it, and see what results you come up with. If the results throw up some individual barrister’s web-pages, have a look at them, and see if you can see a common theme in terms of the area of law they practice in. That is the type of barrister you are looking for. 

Once you know the area of law, you can use various ways of identifying a suitable direct access barrister. The Bar Council’s Direct Access Portal will allow you to find barristers by subject area and location who are qualified to do direct access work. Individual barristers, whether on their chambers’ web-pages, or on LinkedIn, will also usually state whether they are qualified to do direct access work. 

If you want to choose well, do your research. Do not instruct a barrister without carefully reading his chambers’ web-page. A barrister who claims to specialise in lots of areas of law is almost certainly not a specialist at all. Many barristers list cases they have done on their web-page. Do these cases reflect the area(s) of law they claim to specialise in, and are they recent cases (within, say the last five years)? As a general rule, a barrister in their first five years of practice quite often covers lots of different areas of law, but these tend to narrow to one or two practice areas as they become more experienced. How much your case is worth, and how much you can afford to pay are important factors in deciding who you might want to instruct. 

Once you have identified one, or perhaps a small selection of barristers you might wish to instruct, the next thing to do is to make contact with them. Usually this is best done by making a telephone or e-mail enquiry to their chambers, explaining in brief terms what you are seeking advice or assistance with, and enquiring about costs and availability. Do not be afraid to ask questions about fees, and how they will be calculated. A first contact with chambers is also a very good opportunity to ask the clerks – the people who manage barristers’ work and diaries – questions about your case and the suitability of the barrister(s) you have identified. 

Many direct access barristers will be prepared to have a short phone call or perhaps even meeting with you, to let you and them decide whether instructing them would be a good idea, but they will not have the time or the inclination to spend 30 minutes talking through your problems with you, or giving you free advice. Remember, giving advice is how they pay their mortgages! 

Once you have agreed to instruct a direct access barrister, you will need to sign a client care letter. This is a formal letter setting out the terms and conditions you both need to comply with, what work the barrister will and will not do, and explaining how fees are to be calculated and paid. 

You will also need to provide evidence of your identity and address to the barrister or his clerks – usually this will mean that you will need to bring along or provide certified copies of your passport or driving licence, and a recent utility bill. If you are instructing a barrister on behalf of a company or organisation, this can be somewhat complicated, so make sure you ask precisely what you will need to provide. 

In terms of actually giving the barrister the information they will need to carry out the work for you, this will obviously depend on whether, for example, you are asking for a preliminary advice, or for them to appear at a hearing for you. However, there are some general rules/tips which your direct access barrister will usually thank you for, and I would list these as follows:  

  • Barristers spend their life reading papers; they are not afraid of paperwork, they thrive on it. They read very quickly, and can decide even more quickly whether a particular document is important or irrelevant. Always bring or provide all of the paperwork, not just those bits you think are important. Let them decide on importance.
  • Provide copies of documents, not original documents, if at all possible
  • Put the papers into a lever-arch file, and, ideally, number the pages and provide an index to the contents. If court proceedings are already happening, put the pleadings – Particulars of Claim, Defence etc. – at the front of the file, followed by any orders which have been made, followed by any relevant documentsexcluding correspondence, followed by correspondence. Separate the sections with tabs, but make sure each section is in date order (earliest date at the front)
  • If there are a very large number of documents, separate the most important ones, either by putting them under a separate tab within the lever-arch file, or into a separate file
  • Try and avoid providing multiple copies of documents
  • At the very front of the file, put your written explanation or account of what the problem is which you are seeking advice or representation from a barrister about.
  • If it helps, and it often does, try and set out what you consider to be the relevant facts in a chronology and put it in the file immediately behind your written explanation of the case. 

Having said all of this, don’t worry if these suggestions are just too difficult or complicated for you – any direct access barrister worth their salt will be able to manage with whatever you give them. It is just that providing barristers with the right papers in a sensible order should mean that they can advise you quickly and more accurately; possibly even more cheaply.

Nick Isaac is a barrister specialising in property litigation at Tanfield Chambers