Bar Council urges caution over Alternative Business Structures

The Bar Council has published its response to the Legal Services Board’s wide-ranging discussion paper on Alternative Business Structures (ABS).

The response from its Working Group on ABS reflects the Bar Council’s support for a pragmatic and proportionate approach to the liberalisation of the legal services market, as envisaged by Sir David Clementi in his review of legal services in England and Wales.


 In its response, the Bar Council broadly welcomes the introduction of Alternative Business Structures for the legal professions, and believes that legal services consumers will benefit from increased competition between the Bar, known for its low overheads and high levels of expertise, and other legal services providers.

The Working Group emphasises the need to recognise that access to justice requires access to fully qualified representation. There is concern expressed that the LSB will support new forms of access to legal services in the mistaken belief that this, in itself, constitutes improved access to justice. The Bar Council argues that it is vital that the liberalisation of the legal services market is proportionate, evidence-based and incremental in order to preserve public confidence in effective access to justice. The response provides comment on elements of the LSB’s approach towards Alternative Business Structures.

In particular the Working Group highlights the tension between the LSB’s belief in the potential benefits from the liberalisation of the market for legal services despite a lack of any real evidence as to how the market might change, and the effect this would in turn have on consumers. The discussion paper also suggests a prioritisation of promotion of access to legal services at the expense of promoting access to justice.

Commenting on the response, Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

“The Bar Council welcomes in principle the introduction of Alternative Business Structures and the opportunity to provide innovative solutions to changes in the demand for the provision of legal services. There may, however, be tension between liberalisation of the market, and the core principle of providing effective access to justice. It is right, therefore, to advance with caution. For this reason, the Working Group, in its response to the Legal Services Board’s wide-reaching and thought provoking discussion paper, advocates a pragmatic and proportionate approach to the liberalisation of the market. Such an approach will better enable the licensing regime to adapt to changes in the market as they occur, benefitting both regulators and providers of legal services, whilst that

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