From 5 January 2015, I will continue my practice as a Barrister, with support from Complete Counsel.
Complete Counsel is an innovative project which will operate as a sister company to Document Direct. It is anticipated that instructions through Complete Counsel will be electronic via a portal. The management of my practice will use the software package “Briefed”, which will provide electronic management in relation to document production, deadlines, basic diary management, billing and fee collection. So as to ensure efficiency, the use of Briefed will be supplemented by 24/7 PA support, with constant alerts as to any unfinished tasks or lack of response. At a high level, the operation of Briefed and the PA support will be overseen by a Practice and Business Development Manager, who will supervise the day to day functioning and undertake a troubleshooting role. The Practice and Business Development Manager will also take responsibility for client care and contact and be receptive to the reporting of any problems or suggestion as to how the service can be improved.
The clear objective of this approach is to provide a form of practice management which could be considered more efficient and appropriate in a rapidly changing market for legal services. Whilst the traditional Chambers model will no doubt continue to satisfy many Barristers, as Lord Judge commented recently in Counsel magazine, it is vital that the Bar is prepared to consider and embrace new ways of working if the Bar is to maintain its traditional virtues of independence and quality. There is no necessary correlation between the traditional structures and the traditional virtues; in fact the converse could be more easily argued. The word “Chambers” refers only to a building and from that the traditional model reflects a building with the support, and staff structures, that go within a building. The great opportunity for individuals in the digital age is that they do not need to encumber themselves with the expense necessary to maintain the traditional models. The digital model with its much lower base costs creates opportunities for more expenditure in areas which really bring quality and allows much greater scope for independence.
Since I gave notice of my intention to work in this way, I have become aware of many rumours circulating of my likely approach to practise. Whilst the repetition of such rumours rapidly becoming factual statements is one of the traditions of the Bar, I feel I have to disabuse any of you who have chosen to believe the following: First, that I am easing off, downsizing, semi-retiring etc. Whilst I have to admit to having attained a reasonable age, Mr Osborne has it in mind that I should work for many years to come. I am very happy to go along with him on this issue at least. I am enjoying my work more than ever. I cannot imagine anything better than being a Barrister. I believe that you can only properly practise the Bar if you do so with energy and passion. If I ever felt I was losing that energy and passion, I would not ease off or anything like, but out of respect to myself and others, stop completely. I therefore intend to practise for the foreseeable future, to at least the same level and with the same standards I have tried to display throughout my career. If you were in any doubt about this, you should know that Claire Labio has agreed to work as the Practice and Business Development Manager of Complete Counsel and I am sure I will be made rapidly aware of a slipping in my standards or approach.
Second, that I am practising from my garden shed. There are a number of reasons why this is not the case, not least because there is no heat, light or electricity in the garden shed. It is true that I, like many Barristers, probably a clear majority, now work increasingly remotely, in particular from my study at home. However, in practical terms given the use of IT, there is no difference between working in a room in Chambers or in a study at home. The Complete Counsel model, I think, best suits the working life of a specialist civil counsel such as myself, where a significant amount of work relates to document production, where I am capable of working largely remotely, and where my conference and court work is peripatetic.
Thirdly, that this is a cost-cutting exercise. It is true that the basic support service at Complete Counsel operates at a fraction of the cost of being a member of a traditional chambers. However, it is not my intention that my overall level of expenditure shall reduce. Rather I intend to deploy more resource into areas which will transmit better value to my clients. I will continue to employ a paralegal, for support, in particular, in relation to research. The services of a paralegal are not charged directly to clients, but are subsumed within my own fees. I will continue to provide education and training, in particular by participating in the web-based project Pro-VIDE Law. I intend to develop and extend my activities in these respects.
It is also planned that Complete Counsel will involve a parallel project, Complete Mediation, whereby mediation services will be offered, in particular in relation to clinical negligence. The move towards mediation is inevitable and we intend to offer access to skilled mediators with vast experience of litigation.
This is therefore a new approach, but clearly necessary in this challenging and fast developing market for legal services. The project will have to be considered experimental in its first few months and I would encourage all those who instruct through Complete Counsel to offer such help and advice as they feel appropriate. There is nothing that we do not want to hear. The service will initially be most suited to civil barristers in the North West of England. If you are interested, or would like to know more, please email on firstname.lastname@example.org.