Hardwicke’s third study into direct access, conducted by research company Jures, reveals a marked rise in direct instruction and increased confidence among in-house counsel about how to go about it. Of 65 in-house counsel and company secretaries taking part, a third had instructed directly in the past two years. This compares with 15 per cent in 2008 and six per cent in 2006.

More than four out of ten respondents specifically identified the economic downturn as a factor in their decision to instruct the Bar directly.
Ann Buxton, chief executive of Hardwicke, said: “Direct access is still in its infancy but, since we commissioned our last research in 2008, there has been a significant step-change in the approach of corporate counsel to the Bar.

“Corporate Britain’s relationship with its lawyers has gone through a radical upheaval over the last two years. It wants and expects better value for money and the increasing use of ‘direct access’ is part of that.”

The study indicates a growing understanding of direct access, with nine out of ten corporate counsel believing they have sufficient grasp of the issues to be able to instruct barristers directly, compared with only 40 per cent in the 2008 study.

The overwhelming majority (80 per cent) of clients relied on word of mouth or recommendation to find the right barrister for the job, while 45 per cent used directories and 25 per cent used websites.

Barristers were perceived by 55 per cent of corporate counsel to be offering better value for money than solicitors’ firms. Two-thirds of corporate counsel thought barristers’ “specialist expertise” gave them an advantage over solicitors.

A Bar Council spokesperson said: “The importance of direct access continues to increase as lay and professional clients seek to engage the Bar’s high quality, high value services.

“This research shows we are on the right track and raises awareness of the importance and relevance of the Bar to its clients.”