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At last! I am the harbinger of glad tidings!  Barristers can now be instructed direct by the client in search of the best advice and advocacy available.  It’s called Public Access, but as the Great Bard wrote: “A rose is a rose by any other name.”

It doesn’t matter what you call it, it means the same. Instead of having to go to a solicitor first, the client can now come direct to a barrister. It’s good for you, and it’s good for me.

This questionable division of labour between barristers and solicitors has its roots in the twelfth century. You remember it well, when King Henry II was on the throne, and his very best chum was Thomas à Beckett.

In the way of things, being the king’s best chum meant you had first refusal when the top jobs were being handed out, so Thomas found himself appointed Lord Chancellor. Not that he knew anything about the law, a tradition embraced by many of his successors in title.

Not much change there. But Thomas wasn’t content with sitting back and drawing his index linked pension and the perks of Office, on the contrary, he decided to set up and preside over the Court of Chancery. Excitement mounted to fever pitch as he travelled around the land, hearing and settling disputes, it was like an early version of the X Factor.

Problem was, he was the victim of his own success, with the Great Unwashed hammering at the doors of the Court and demanding instant justice. To make matters worse, as in any legal dispute, there were winners and losers, and the losers were less than gracious when judgment was entered against them.  In a trice they were in his Lordship’s face, screaming abuse, with time honoured remarks such as: “What is your problem!?!” and “Do you want some!?!”

So to impose some semblance of order, Thomas had a rail, or bar, erected between him and these vocal protagonists, and if they wanted to address him, they had to do so behind the bar.

The success of the Court brought forth those who claimed a smattering of legal knowledge, and for a fee, would plead their clients’ cases. In doing so, they were “called to the bar” to address the court, and they became known as barristers.

Work increased to the point where these barristers were struggling to meet the demands of their many clients, so touts sprang up to solicit business, and for a commission, would introduce suitable paying clients to barristers and get them to the front of the queue.

It suited both barristers and touts as well as their respective clients, and the convention grew up that barristers would thereafter use the services of these touts, or solicitors, as go between to bring them work.

How the worm has turned! Until the recent advent of direct access, solicitors used this time honoured convention to their best advantage, and clutching their Higher Courts Advocacy Certificates, began offering themselves to clients in all aspects of the law, including those areas which had traditionally been the sole preserve of barristers.

But a new dawn is upon us, and with a few exceptions, barristers can now offer the client the same ‘cradle to grave’ service without the need for a solicitor. Hallelujah! The client wins all ways. He gets the best advocate for the job, and he doesn’t have to pay an ‘introduction’ fee to a solicitor.

In the best traditions of the Bar Council, the barristers’ governing body, it’s still a case of ‘one step forward, and two steps back’, but we’re getting there. So if you’re in need of sound legal advice, and above all, the services of an experienced advocate, help is but a phone call away. A new dawn indeed!

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