Obtaining legal advice or representation can seem a daunting task. How do you know which lawyers you can approach and who has the right skills.
In today's modern world, one watchword is 'choice'. The legal services market, not wanting to be left behind, has been embracing this concept with the introduction of the Direct Access Scheme (sometimes known as the Public Access Scheme).
Historically, those seeking legal advice had little option but to visit a solicitor when they needed legal advice or representation. Should the skills and expertise of a barrister be required, then the client had to seek this through the services of a solicitor. Rules prevented the client from going directly to the barrister and seeking the barrister's services directly. Recently, this artificial barrier was removed and now legal advice and representation can be sought directly from a barrister, without having to engage the services of a solicitor, first or at all.
The advantages raised by the removal of this artificial barrier are significant. The client can avoid the cost of instructing the solicitor, and need only pay for the services the client actually needs. When barrister advice or representation is needed, the client is not delayed by first having to get a solicitor, giving instructions to the solicitor, waiting for the solicitor to relay those instructions to the barrister, then waiting for the barrister to advice the solicitor, before that advice is passed back to the client. Client's also get more interaction with the barrister, rather than being 'one step removed' from them.
Clients who can manage the routine elements of their own cases, to a sufficient degree, can run their own cases themselves, bringing in the skills and knowledge of the barrister only when it is needed. This can be cheaper than using a solicitor to undertake routine case management just because the client occasionally needs specialist advice.
Going direct to a barrister will not be suitable for every case, and much will depend on the nature of the legal issue(s), complexity of the tasks to be undertaken, the work required, and ability of the client to manage and organise documents efficiently. A barrister cannot be a complete substitute for a solicitor. Unless a barrister has an additional qualification, he is she cannot be an address for service, for instance. However, where a direct client/barrister relationship is appropriate to a case, the ability to go direct to the barrister offers, amongst other things, that all important, alternative to instructing a solicitor. It gives the client choice.
The Bar Standards Board publishes guidance for lay clients about how Public Access/Direct Access operates. To read that guidance, click here.