The legal services profession is undergoing a period of dramatic and rapid change. New business models and ways of delivering services to clients are appearing all the time. The market is tough and unforgiving and, for the criminal Bar, planned changes to Legal Aid will also impact on their workloads.
As the regulator, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) wants to ensure that barristers can take advantage of a liberalising market to bring benefits to their clients. We must also assure the public that, despite such change, the standards applied to the advocates on whom they rely are no less rigorous and that access to justice is safeguarded. To this end, we have been undergoing change ourselves – modernising our approach to regulation and amending conduct rules to empower the Bar to react to the changing needs of legal consumers.
Nowhere is this shift more conspicuous than in the new Handbook and revised Code of Conduct, which will come into force on 6 January 2014. The current Code was created almost a decade ago and, while many rule changes have been implemented over the last ten years, the basic framework underpinning the rules around how barristers practise has remained much the same.
The launch of the new Handbook represents a major milestone in a new approach to regulation. The Handbook’s approach is less prescriptive, with more focus and guidance on what the outcome of a rule should be, rather than attempting to define how a barrister should act in every situation. Superfluous rules have been stripped away and others modernised. As well as offering greater clarity there are also new measures that will empower barristers to change their business models in line with consumer need.
For example, self-employed barristers will be able to apply for an extension to their practising certificates to conduct litigation. This means that clients of public access barristers who find themselves in court can receive a seamless service that includes the administrative litigation tasks that they would otherwise have to perform themselves as litigants in person or else instruct a solicitor.
As we introduce the new Code we will also be finalising our new regulatory framework for entities. Once we have received the requisite approvals from the Legal Services Board, the BSB will extend its regulation to entities. In due course we will also be seeking designation as a Licensing Authority for Alternative Business Structures (entities that have some lay ownership or management). These two significant steps will allow us to move forwards in helping barristers to develop new business models and leave them better placed to respond to changing demands from their clients.
Over the coming months, there will be numerous opportunities for the Bar to get to grips with the new Handbook and learn more about what the changes mean for them and their practice – including a free online webinar, a CPD-accredited podcast and a series of workshops and road shows across the country. More information about these is available on the BSB website: www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/handbook.
It is our job as the regulator to promote high standards of practice and to safeguard clients and the public interest. Changes like those in the new Handbook will ensure the Bar can adapt and modernise in an ever-evolving environment – while still preserving the very best of what it has provided to the public for many, many years.
The new BSB Handbook and revised Code of Conduct come into force on 6 January 2014, and are available to download at www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/handbook