The group, led by Stephen Cobb QC, is working hard on the legal aid reform consultation and on the consultation on the implementation of the Jackson proposals. They are pulling together the contributions of the Specialist Bar Associations and the Circuits and writing effective, hard hitting commentary so as to present coherent and comprehensive responses. It is an enormous task. Simply blending the contributions from many different practice areas, written in many different styles is a significant challenge all of itself. But they recognise that this is an important opportunity to ensure that the Bar’s voice is heard. We recognise that they are doing a great service to the profession, but are you doing enough to help? With regard to Jackson in particular, more information is required.

How many at the Bar have prepared for change?

I began a programme of Circuit visits at the end of December. The night before Christmas Eve was in York. In January to Birmingham, early February to Swansea and Cardiff and later in February visits to Southampton and Winchester. I will continue to visit sets across the country. These are valuable opportunities to hear directly from members of the Bar.

What has emerged very clearly is the degree of disparity between those sets (both privately and publicly funded) that have analysed their markets, identified opportunities, and have well developed programmes for a new environment, and those sets that have done little or nothing.

The changes permitted by the Legal Services Act 2007 will continue to affect our market. Whether or not the BSB embarks on entity regulation, new corporate vehicles will play an increasingly important role.

From 6 October 2011 Alternative Business Structures (“ABS”) will be allowed to operate in the legal services market. Chambers that are planning ahead see these changes as opportunities, not just with the Legal Services Commission, but also with local authorities, insurance companies and other large commercial institutions. Such chambers wish to stay ahead of the competition. As an example, some have arrangements with major firms of accountants and solicitors to provide multi-disciplinary support for corporate clients. There is wider recognition that new structures will assist in tendering for the block contracts now being offered by organisations which are looking to cut costs by outsourcing legal services requirements. I urge all chambers to look for similar opportunities.

If further impetus is needed then it may be found in the messages from Government. In deciding on the process for awarding contracts, the focus is not on whether competition will work but how to make it work. The MoJ maintains a desire for cradle to grave contracts. We have pressed for mechanisms to distinguish or ring-fence the work that is best suited to the Bar. We look for each and every opportunity to advance the Bar’s case, but the reception is becoming less sympathetic. Nothing has been said to indicate that the MoJ is committed to an alternative to OCOF.

By the time you read this, a short pamphlet-sized guide to the Prepare for Change programme will have been sent out. On that you will find a guide to the Bar Council website material aimed both at those who have little knowledge of the ProcureCo model and at those who are more advanced and wish to raise points of detail. We will be launching a frequently asked questions section and providing the answers as best we are able. We encourage contributions.

In addition we are setting up a group to deal with contracting with local authorities. At the same time the Bar Council’s own direct access training courses will be available all over the country. To maximise the potential for those who have attended these courses, the Access to the Bar Committee is working on a broad marketing plan. This will alert the general public to the advantages of direct access and will assist those sets who are reluctant to offend their solicitors by conducting a vigorous chambers’ based marketing campaign. We will continue to strive on your behalf, but you must also help yourself.

Another change, another opportunity

David Hobart, the Chief Executive, has decided to move on. He has been an invaluable asset. With an excellent sense of strategy and a deep knowledge of the ways of Government, David’s sharp focus and clear analysis have steered us through many challenging situations – not the least of which has been the successful establishment of the Bar Standards Board. His contribution to the positive relationship that we have with our regulator cannot be underestimated. We wish him well. Fortunately, he will remain with us until he takes up his new post in May.

This too will afford a timely opportunity. I have asked Nick Green QC, my predecessor, to chair a group which will examine the structure of the Bar Council and provide a comprehensive report. This will enable us to ensure that the Bar Council itself has the modern and robust framework required to lead the profession as we emerge from these difficult times.  ?