Commercial pressures could lower quality, bar regulator warns

15 April, 2016

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is warning barristers that commercial pressures could threaten their independence and tempt them to take unnecessary risks that may harm clients.

The BSB has said pressures arising from cuts to legal aid, the rising number of litigants in person, and competition from alternative business structures and solicitors’ firms, has placed barristers in a difficult situation.

It believes that some barristers and chambers may respond positively to these changes, while others might resort to practices that could lead to a ‘compromising of ethical principles, lowering of standards and/or unrealistic or hidden pricing in order to win business, which could have a negative effect on the reputation of the profession.

It has particular concerns that some barristers may be vulnerable to improper suggestions from wealthy clients, the report says: “Our fear is that by trying to win and retain influential clients or intermediaries, some members of the bar could resort to financial tactics that harm the wider public interest and threaten the bar’s independence.”

“Powerful clients may instruct barristers and apply commercial pressure directly to compromise independence or integrity.”

The regulator says it already has evidence of the effect commercial pressures are having on the bar from the complaints it receives, investigations and enforcement action it takes.

Andrew Burns, chair of the BSB, said in his foreword to the BSB new report: “We know things are tough for many parts of the bar…

“However by embracing change and by working together to address the important themes discussed in the document, we hope to make significant progress to address the risks we have identified.”

If you require help managing the commercial and financial pressures faced by legal professionals in the current market, please contact us.