‘But if everyone did, that could mean the death of the Bar as we know it!’ exclaimed a fellow barrister when they heard I was setting up an ABS (alternative business structure). I was, and am, firmly of the belief that the two are complementary, not exclusive.

Why did I set up an ABS? Well, firstly bear with me while I explain that an ABS is not a new concept; the Legal Services Act 2007 set that ‘non-authorised person(s)’ could have an interest in a licensed body. In short, non-lawyers could own and have a controlling role in a law firm. More on that shortly!


Over nearly 20 years of practice I developed a substantial direct access client base. These clients would often approach me for litigation support/services better suited to a solicitor’s practice, so I would refer them to local firms. On many an occasion, even with excellent solicitors involved, clients wanted me to manage their case throughout – something that is not easy as a barrister through chambers and where a solicitor was engaged.

Alongside this, I was also asked to work in-house with several solicitors’ firms, helping to provide training and detailed legal support for complex matters which ranged from running one of the first primarily virtual pupillages, through to specialist advice to SIPP and SSAS providers and trustees.

Then one day, when I was having a meal with my husband, David, he asked why I did not look to combine these roles, given that I loved the direct client interaction, training and development of both solicitors and other barristers. My initial reaction was that I was a barrister not a solicitor and only solicitors owned law firms! Almost as soon as I uttered those words, I remembered reading about entities. So, we decided to look into the possibility.

David is a chartered wealth manager and experienced in training, supervising and coaching new wealth managers and financial advisers. Several of his former colleagues had asked why he did not set up his own firm as he was well regarded in the wealth management and private banking industry. So here we were, both experienced in working and coaching, in industries that overlapped heavily. It did not take long to put the pieces together!


The next step was identifying which body to approach for authorisation. The logical choice for me was the Bar Standards Board (BSB). However, the BSB was clear that its licensed bodies could not hold client accounts. While there were alternative approaches with the BSB, we decided to approach the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The application process is, as you would expect, very rigorous and requires time; lots of time! David oversaw the process, collating all the documentation, business plans and risk policies… The latter were especially important as I always intended keeping my independent practice at my chambers. We had to ensure there were appropriate policies in place to maintain data protection and manage any potential conflicts of interest. This included compliance with the BSB regulations. I have always had policies in place for my dual practice so that was straightforward for me. While the ABS is regulated by the SRA, I am individually regulated by the BSB.

Obtaining insurance was one of the key hurdles that as a barrister we do not normally have to worry about. It is expensive! David, having a lot of experience with insurance, was ideally placed to deal with this process but even he had a few sleepless nights as insurance companies temporarily pulled out of the new firm market due to COVID. He also had the fun of obtaining bank accounts. Here comes the chicken and egg scenario! You need a corporate account and client account to start the business, but you cannot open a client account before you are authorised. In spite of years of banking experience, we struggled to get accounts opened as most banks quoted up to six months for new accounts. Online bank accounts seemed to be the way but many of them will not provide accounts to law firms and none offered client accounts. In the end we managed it, but undoubtably this was one of the most stressful elements of setting up.

Once it was up and running, I faced a number of comments from members of the Bar who are not yet familiar with barristers owning an ABS. Also concerning is the number of judges that I have had to explain it to! One of the common questions is how to maintain a practice via chambers alongside an ‘employed’ role. We spent a lot of time planning how this would work, though it does not differ significantly from doing in-house work while practising from chambers where work comes through via instructing solicitors; a lot of which is brought in by my own marketing and relationships, and some is brought in by the clerks or referrals.

Wildcat Law has a team of solicitors and other barristers working across England and Wales that deal with clients, both commercial and individual, directly. My primary role is supervision and training which I find incredibly rewarding. When it comes to client matters, I can be engaged a lot earlier than would normally be the case and get to build a lasting client relationship versus a more transactional (per piece of work) relationship as a self-employed barrister.

I am often asked how it differs from being in a chambers? My response is that chambers is primarily B2B while the ABS is B2C. That is, in chambers your ‘clients’ are solicitors who will (hopefully!) provide you with repeat instructions for multiple clients over the years. The solicitors are responsible for bringing in the clients. You are responsible for maintaining that relationship with the solicitor and representing the lay client.

At Wildcat Law, the lawyer (which could be you) brings in lay clients; the hard bit the solicitors normally do! Typically, you also have to have litigation and direct access rights, but you may work alongside a solicitor or CILEx lawyer on matters.

Retirement planning

Once I set up the firm, I started noticing how many barristers had other businesses, be they ABS, consultancies or training and coaching services. Often described as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon I now see them everywhere and suspect you will, too! It turns out there are over 500 barristers on the BSB register, holding dual capacity certificates.

I decided to ask other barristers why they set up their own businesses alongside a chambers’ practice and received a very similar response from all of them: ‘retirement planning’. For the same reason many barristers move to the judiciary, the same driving force pushes us to establish businesses. Why? Because unlike many other well-paid careers being a barrister often means we are self-employed and hence responsible for our own pension provision. Something many of us are not good at! Building a business offers retirement planning options.

Is it for you?

If you would like to take the plunge, the good news is that there are a range of options. If you are over five years’ PQE you could set up your own ABS, but ensure you have someone who can do the operational side with you. Or you could join an existing ABS where you do not have the operational issues but still get the freedom of working as part of a team more directly with clients.

If you enjoy networking, have a large social group and are keen on busines, then this may be for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer a more distanced relationship and not the business side of practice, then this most certainly is not! I believe the Bar is strong enough to accommodate both models. To paraphrase Shakespeare – ‘I come here to praise Caesar, not to bury him’! 

Pictured top: Tahina with her Wildcat Law Co-Director (and husband), David Robinson: ‘Both experienced in working and coaching, in industries that overlapped heavily, it did not take long to put the pieces together!’