What is Public Access?

Public access is the term used to describe members of the public going directly to a barrister, rather than first engaging the services of a solicitor to instruct a barrister. Not all barristers are allowed to deal with members of the public directly; they need to have completed special training in order to be able to do this. Since 2004, under the Public Access scheme anyone can instruct a barrister directly without the involvement of a solicitor or other intermediary. Further guidance on Public Access for Lay Clients is available from the Bar Standards Board here.

 

Consumers now have the possibility of one legal professional being able to fulfil all of their legal requirements. At 9 Hazel Tree Chambers Nicola Canty is one of a small number of barristers who are also authorised to undertake the formal process of taking your case to court, known as ‘conducting litigation’. This is not the case for all public access barristers and where a barrister is not able to conduct litigation, you may need to act as a litigant in person yourself, responsible for filing documents at court and serving documents on other parties. 

 

Nicola has extensive litigation experience both as an independent self-employed barrister and working in-house as an employed barrister at solicitors' firms undertaking litigation work. In suitable cases, clients may benefit from her ability to conduct a case in its entirety: providing legal advice, advocacy in court and drafting documents, in addition to her authorisation to conduct litigation which allows her to initiate legal proceedings and file documents at court, serve documents on other parties and instruct experts where necessary.

 

What is the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?

Barristers, solicitors and chartered legal executives (CILEx) are the main types of lawyers in England and Wales (chartered legal executives are similar to solicitors but their training is narrower as they generally specialise in one area). 

 

The traditional distinction is that barristers specialise in providing expert legal advice, advocacy in court and the drafting of documents, whilst historically, your first call would be to a solicitor to work directly with you to help you to resolve your legal issues. Normally this would involve meeting with you to work out what the case is about, arranging the necessary paperwork, and communicating with other parties that may be involved in your case. 

 

However, the difference between the role of a barrister and the role of a solicitor has changed slightly over the last few years; nowadays if the case ends up going to court, a solicitor may instruct a barrister to advise about the law and represent you in court but, if a client agrees, a solicitor may go to court and represent you themselves if they are suitably qualified and have sufficient experience. Likewise, it is now also possible for that first call to be to a barrister if they are specially registered to work directly for members of the public as 'public access’ barristers.

 

Many barristers are self-employed and work from offices called chambers, either with other barristers or on their own as sole practitioners. Barristers are independent, objective and trained to advise clients on the strengths and weaknesses of their case. Barristers are required to meet high ethical standards and must act with integrity, honesty and independence, provide a competent and professional service and keep their knowledge of their practice area fully up to date. You can access the Bar Standards Board website for further information on what to expect from a barrister here.

Do I have to instruct a solicitor as well?

For a barrister to undertake work for you, they need to be ‘instructed’. This just means that you will be hiring that barrister to help you with your legal problem. If you have a solicitor, they will instruct the barrister for you; however, some barristers, like those at 9 Hazel Tree Chambers, are also able to be instructed directly by members of the public (they need to have done special training and be registered to be allowed to do this).

 

Your barrister will advise you if it is in your interests or the interests of justice that your case should have the additional support of a solicitor, and will continue to consider whether this is necessary throughout the case.

 

What are the advantages of instructing a barrister rather than a solicitor?

Public Access clients choose to use the scheme for a variety of reasons, including quick and easy access to specialist advice and representation, the potential to reduce legal costs and improve overall value for money, or simply having more control over their own case.

 

It is usually cheaper to instruct a barrister directly as you will often only be instructing a barrister rather than paying a solicitor’s fees as well. In addition, a Chambers’ overheads are usually less than a Solicitors firm’s running costs because barristers are self-employed and normally have lower administrative costs than a law firm.

How do I instruct a barrister from 9 Hazel Tree Chambers?

Once you have identified the nature of your problem and what it is that you want a barrister to do, there are two ways that you can instruct a barrister from 9 Hazel Tree Chambers to undertake work for you:

  1. If you have a solicitor who is also working on your legal problem, they will instruct a barrister for you.  You can request a particular barrister you would like them to use.

  2. If you do not have a solicitor working for you, you can go directly to a barrister yourself. Please get in touch via our contact us form to discuss your needs and the relevant legal services we may provide.

 

Identification checks

Normally, before accepting you as a client we are required to carry out identification checks and will usually ask you to provide us with certified copies of your identification documents, such as a passport, together with a recent utility bill or bank statement to prove your name, date of birth and address.

Initial meeting

We may also need you to send further documents in relation to your case or arrange an initial meeting to establish what legal services you need and to identify the necessary next steps. You may find that it is more convenient and cost-effective to conduct these discussions in writing, by telephone or by videoconference, but we also offer meetings in person if you would prefer this option.

Agree work to be undertaken and fees

Once it is agreed that you will be instructing a barrister under the public access scheme, we will send a 'client care letter' directly to you. This letter will set out what work we are going to do for you, when it will be done by, how you will be charged for the work, and how you can complain if you are unhappy with the service we provide.  

 

When you instruct the same barrister for some new or different work, we will send you another letter with information about that work.

 

How much will it cost to instruct a barrister?

There are a number of ways we charge for our services:

  • Fixed fee - this is when we agree in advance how much work we will do for you and how much this will cost. We provide clients with an overall amount that you will need to pay in advance for the work we will be doing.

  • Hourly rate - this is when we charge a set rate for the time spent working on your case. We will agree an initial fee estimate with you based on how many hours we think the work will take and will keep track of the hours of work done for you to calculate the final cost.

 

Whilst we are always flexible and are happy to discuss fee arrangement options with potential clients, we find that many clients prefer to agree a fixed fee in advance as clients then know exactly how much a case, or a particular stage of a case, will cost from the outset.

 

In most circumstances we will agree a fixed fee before undertaking any work and will provide a clear outline of what will be covered by this fee to ensure the client understands what they are getting for their money. Our fees are payable in advance. Where we are instructed on an hourly rate basis we keep clients regularly updated on costs so that there are no surprises.

 

Clients should feel comfortable to ask questions to clarify any uncertainty they may have about fees, as customer satisfaction is at the heart of what we do.

Contact us for a quote.

When does the client pay?

The client is normally required to pay our professional fees in advance. The level of these fees is agreed in advance and clients will be given a detailed break down of the fees required and what work this will cover.

 

What sort of work can a barrister instructed on a public access basis do?

The following are some examples of work that a barrister is allowed to do:

  1. A barrister may appear on your behalf at court and carry out advocacy before any court or tribunal in England and Wales, and before international courts and tribunals.

  2. A barrister may give you legal advice.

  3. A barrister may draft legal documents for you, such as a statement of claim.

  4. A barrister may advise you on the formal steps which need to be taken in proceedings before a court or other organisation and draft formal documents for use in those proceedings.

  5. A barrister may draft and send letters for you.

  6. If a witness statement from you is required in proceedings, a barrister may prepare that statement from what you tell them. A barrister may also help to prepare witness statements from another person based on the information that person has provided.

  7. Where a case requires an expert witness (for example, an expert who can provide evidence of a technical or professional nature), a barrister may advise you on the choice of a suitable expert and may draft a letter of instruction which you can then send to the expert as a letter from you on your own notepaper.

  8. Barristers can negotiate on your behalf and can attend employment, police or investigative hearings where appropriate.

 

The following are examples of work that a barrister may do, but only if, like a barrister at 9 Hazel Tree Chambers, they have been authorised to conduct litigation:

           9. File proceedings on your behalf with the court or file other applications, or take other formal steps in court or other proceedings.

         10. Instruct an expert witness on your behalf.

 

A barrister is not allowed to handle clients’ money (other than a barrister’s fees).

 

Can barristers conduct litigation on the client’s behalf?

Yes. Nicola Canty is one of a small number of barristers who are authorised by the Bar Standards Board to undertake the formal process of taking your case to court, known as ‘conducting litigation’. This includes filing documents at court and serving documents on others. Nicola has extensive litigation experience both as an independent self-employed barrister and working in-house as an employed barrister at solicitors' firms undertaking litigation work. In suitable cases, clients may benefit from her ability to conduct a case in its entirety.