The Bar Standards Board
(BSB) has introduced new mandatory rules to improve transparency standards. These are designed to improve the information available to the public before they engage the services of a barrister. They are a result of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) 2016 recommendations in this area and follow consultations by the BSB in 2017 and 2018. The new rules require self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities to:
- state that professional, licensed access and/or lay clients (as appropriate) may contact them to obtain a quotation for legal services;
- provide contact details;
- state their most commonly used pricing models, such as fixed fee or hourly rate;
- state the areas of practice in which they most commonly provide legal services;
- describe most commonly provided legal services;
- provide information about the factors which might influence the timescales of their most commonly provided legal services;
- display text on their homepage indicating they are regulated by the BSB;
- display information about their complaints procedure, any right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), how to complain to the LeO, and any time limits for making a complaint;
- link to the decision data on the LeO’s website;
- link to the Barristers’ Register on the BSB website.
- This information must be made prominent and sufficiently accessible on barristers’ individual and chambers’ websites and kept accurate and up to date. For those without a website, it must always be readily available to the public in hard copy and upon request.
Extra requirements for public access
If any barristers practising from a chambers are undertaking public access work, or if a BSB entity is supplying legal services directly to the public, their websites and those of their chambers or entities must also link to (or barristers must provide hard copies of) the Public Access Guidance for Lay Clients, which can be found on the BSB website.
There are also additional transparency rules in relation to the provision of the following public access services: employment tribunal cases (advice and representation for employers and employees); financial disputes arising out of divorce; immigration appeals (first-tier tribunal); Inheritance Act advices; licensing applications in relation to business premises; personal injury claims; summary only motoring offences (advice and representation for defendants); and winding-up petitions.
In certain circumstances set out in the policy statement, barristers providing these public access services will be required by the rules to:
- state any pricing model(s) which they use, such as whether you charge fixed fees or hourly rates;
- state their indicative fees and the circumstances in which they may vary;
- state whether their fees include VAT (where applicable);
- state any likely additional costs or give a typical range of costs if only an estimate is possible; and
- describe the relevant public access services they provide, including a concise statement of the key stages and indicative timescale.
- Chambers may provide price information linked to individual barristers or ranges or average fees for the whole chambers.
There will be an implementation period until January 2020, during which the BSB will work with the profession as they make the necessary changes. The regulator expects everyone to comply fully by January 2020. Spot checks will take place at the end of the implementation period although the emphasis will be on helping barristers to comply rather than taking disciplinary measures.
Best practice: Further guidance is available on the BSB website (bit.ly/2LFGkAS). This includes checklists, examples of how to provide hard copies of information and examples of the required transparency. It also encourages barristers to go beyond the mandatory rules and offers guidance on what is considered best practice.
See also the BSB Public Access Guidance for Lay Clients at: bit.ly/2XDPosm and LeO decision data at: bit.ly/2G4kxPK