This year I celebrate 13 years of public access work, now known as direct public access. It’s been an interesting voyage into the unknown, but on balance, a rewarding experience.
Before public access came along, I enjoyed, or endured, depending on your perspective, the traditional chambers setup. I joined Chambers as a tenant, which is a pompous way of saying that I agreed to pay my dues into the Chambers ‘pot’ in return for clerking services and a desk in a small room in the cellar. These services were payment for work secured by the clerks from solicitors, and the clerks would negotiate my fees and any disbursements in return for a slice of the action. And I was supposed to feel grateful. When I left London Chambers for pastures new, I was paying 25% of my net income into the Chambers ‘pot’.
When I finally plucked up the courage to break free from the Chambers stranglehold and embrace direct public access, it was a red letter day. Overnight I became a sole practitioner and the head of my own Chambers, practising as the Chambers of David Osborne. Very exciting.
As a direct public access barrister, I dropped criminal law, it wasn’t worth the candle, what with legal aid payments reaching rock bottom and journeyman solicitors with their cash and carry practices all but freezing out the junior Bar, and instead turned my expertise to common law. Nothing too grand, after all, as a sole practitioner, I have to ration my time if I am to do justice to my clients. I now offer advice and representation in Tort, negligence, personal injury, landlord and tenant, contract, matrimonial and family.
The obvious advantages to me of flying solo is that I am the master of my own destiny, and I am no longer paying large sums into my Chambers ‘pot’. It is also an interesting experience of dealing direct with clients, instead as before of shielding behind a solicitor.
I am obviously not alone in offering a direct public access service. When I first started in 2004, there were barely 200 of us. Now there are nearer 5000, and growing by the day. The direct public access service is becoming increasingly popular with lay clients, who can make appreciable savings on legal costs without the additional costs of instructing a solicitor. However, I am finding it repeatedly the case that lay clients labour under the misapprehension that barristers are cheap. That may have been the case when solicitors were calling the shots, but not any more. It is taking time to persuade clients that a good barrister, and I can think of one in particular, brings with him enviable experience and expertise, and as somebody once said, and it could have been me, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!