The ability to go straight to a barrister to obtain legal advice, assistance and representation, is available across all areas of law. Whether for instance the dispute involves family law, criminal law, contractual or property law issues, there are no restrictions on what matters can take advantage of the Direct Access Scheme (sometimes known as the Public Access Scheme). With no constraints, members of the public, businesses and organisations can all seek legal advice, assistance and representation, direct from a barrister, without having to instruct a solicitor first, or at all.
The question then arises, well what are the advantages of going direct to a barrister, over employing the services of a solicitor, with or without a barrister as well.
Instructing a barrister without also instructing a solicitor can give rise to many advantages for the client. One advantage will typically be overall cost. For those able to undertake the more routine aspects to litigation, going direct to a barrister can mean savings. With the guidance of a barrister on hand to assist when things become complicated, the client can undertake some of the routine litigation tasks themselves, paying only for legal assistance they need during the more complicate phases. Paying for expert assistance only when needed, rather than signing up to a holistic service, can be more cost effective.
A second advantage is the quality of legal advice and representation received. Typically, barristers appear in court frequently, often giving them an up to date and indepth understanding and perspective on how judges are deciding the types of case you might be involved in. Significant court experience can translate into a more acute sense of how a Court might determine a dispute, giving you a clearer understanding of your merits, and so whether you should be settling and at what figure, or alternatively, continue on to trial.
Using a Direct Access barrister will not suit all types of case - some cases will involve significant amounts of documentation, or involve complex issues and tight Court imposed timetables, stretching resources and skills. In such cases, a solicitor can help get all the documentation done. On the other hand, many cases can progress without difficulty with the client undertaking the routine aspects of the litigation, guided by a barrister. More complex documentation can be drafted by the barrister.
Moreover, the barrister can monitor the relationship, and can suggest a solicitor is brought in should one be required, potentially recommending a solicitor with the particular skills and experience really needed.
The Direct Access Scheme has been going for around 10 years, expanding in scope since it was initially launched; it continues to offers very tangible benefits to those able to manage their own cases and work with the guidance and support of a barrister.
The Bar Standards Board publishes guidance for lay clients about how Public Access/Direct Access operates. To read that guidance, click here.