Most people will have had some experience of lawyers, whether it has been limited to the purchase of a home, or more extensively – for example, in the context of corporate dealings. For most people, that experience will have started with seeing a solicitor, and possibly engaging a barrister through the solicitor at a later stage. Direct Access now allows clients to consult a barrister at the first stage.
In deciding what approach to take, the starting point is understanding the difference between a solicitor and a barrister, and why might you need one rather than the other – or both.
In England and Wales today, the distinction between solicitors and barristers has narrowed considerably. Traditionally, solicitors work directly with clients and are the first point of contact. They advise clients on the law, take their instructions, and guide them through the legal issues and practice relevant to their case. They deal with the drafting of documents, and with correspondence and other communications. They usually manage the day-to-day administration of a case. They prepare cases for court, if necessary, and may appear as advocates.
By contrast, barristers have traditionally acted as specialists, instructed by solicitors, and have provided expert legal and strategic advice, and appeared in the higher courts.
There has always been some overlap in the roles, as barristers can be involved in the drafting of documents and will have a key role in the preparation of a case for court. However, many of the old restrictions have been swept away, so that solicitors may appear as advocates in the higher courts, and barristers may have direct access to clients.
This means that it is now possible for members of the public to engage the services of the barrister directly (known as Direct Access or Public Access; see the Public Access section on the Bar Council website: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/using-a-barrister/public-access/).
What does this mean in practice?
Traditionally, if you were getting divorced, or required a pre-nuptial agreement, or had some other family law related issue, your first port of call would have been a solicitor. If your case was particularly complex, or likely to go to Court, your solicitor might have taken you to see a barrister specialising in divorce and family law.
With Direct Access, it is now possible to go directly, at the earliest possible stage, to a leading QC, specialising in divorce and other family law issues (a QC, or Queen’s Counsel, is a distinguished barrister, appointed by Her Majesty as a mark of recognition of skill).
What is the benefit of Direct Access? First, of course, is a saving of costs. For each stage at which the barrister is instructed directly, costs will be saved. But it might well be that you need a solicitor in any event. As soon as you need one, you will be guided to a top family law solicitor, who will work hand in hand with your QC. Direct Access gives you the opportunity to investigate using your barrister and solicitor together in a more cost-effective manner.
Costs are not however the only advantage, however. Many divorcing couples are willing to settle their own finances, but don’t know how a court would view the settlement they want to achieve. Others may want to know about the process itself. You may just have lots of questions and don’t know who to ask, or even what to ask.
Direct Access is whatever you want it to be: a first port of call, where you know that you can rely on the advice, or someone to guide you through the whole process.
If you want to see whether your case may be suitable for direct access, telephone the clerks on 0207 797 7837 or click here.