Whilst we welcomed and promoted this developing area, it did come with challenges relating to fee payment such as client trust, payment in advance, credit card fees, etc. A lot of these issues involved increased administrative work for chambers, general inconveniences and sometimes loss of work. When Carol Harris, head of the BARCO team, proposed a meeting to discuss the opportunities of using the escrow system, we were eager to explore the possibilities.
Initially we hesitated as it seemed that offering escrow to clients might be quite involved and could add a tier of administration that would not necessarily benefit the client or chambers. However, the BARCO team were very instructive and introduced us to the various processes and implications of using the escrow account. Chambers started on a trial basis. We integrated the documentation with our database and linked in with our public access client care letters to more readily facilitate the process. The first few cases were rather daunting and did not progress without teething problems for us. However, at all points, Carol and her staff were very supportive and had a truly collaborative approach.
The benefits of BARCO
The BARCO escrow facility was very swiftly adopted by all of our barristers who deal with public access work as its benefits became apparent. These benefits are multiple. Firstly, with BARCO, we can not only take the normal cheque and bank transfer payments but also credit cards which BARCO deals with on our behalf. We had previously considered taking credit card payments ourselves, as so many clients offered them, but this would have involved us in additional expense and administration. We also wished to avoid credit card charge backs where a client could dispute the charge allowing the credit card company to claw back the fee after the work was done. However, when using the BARCO escrow account, once the payment is made it is in cleared funds and cannot be recouped if your paperwork is in order. This is an agreement that is unique to BARCO and the credit card companies. As many of our clients instruct us late in the day and wish to pay by credit card this has meant an increase in work that we were previously unable to accept. Additionally, members of chambers are protected from handling client money.
The team at BARCO effectively provide a very capable double check on not only the escrow account documents being in order, but also on the money laundering identity documents. This is particularly important to counsel and clerks and should not be underestimated. Money laundering identity documents and client contracts must be kept for seven years. Therefore, it is important as a safety measure to have a second, respected, offsite body, BARCO, holding copies of these documents in the unhappy event of a problem with your original files. This may form part of your chambers disaster recovery document.
There has also been an unexpected benefit to chambers. Like most (if not all) chambers, we require our public access work to be paid in advance. This did in the past appear to put some clients off instructing counsel. However, clients appreciate the benefit of the escrow account and do not now shy away from paying in advance. The escrow account protects counsel, clerks and the lay client and it is a persuasive selling point for your chambers. Being backed by the Bar Council it gives clients a strong sense of security.
I believe BARCO’s role will be crucial in the development of returns between chambers in relation to public access work. BARCO lends certainty and clarity to counsel that payment will be made and received securely and promptly.
Whilst there is certainly a little more administration involved when using the escrow account, the time spent on this is far outweighed by the benefits. There are various charges for using BARCO but they are relatively small and may be factored into the overall quotation to the client. BARCO’s escrow account works very well for chambers – we utilise BARCO for 100% of our public access work, multiple times a week and escrow is now an essential part of our public access offering.
Mike Ryan, Senior Clerk and Practice Manager, New Walk Chambers, Leicester