In praise of Direct Access

Nick Singer, an employment barrister at 42 Bedford Row, explains why he joined myBarrister and how in just one year he has more than recovered his subscription with a range of interesting instructions.

In July 2013, the government increased the fees for anyone wanting to take their case to an employment tribunal. It said the intention was to deter people from making frivolous of vexatious claims and also to contribute towards the costs of running the tribunals.

The consequence has been a dramatic reduction in the number of claims filed with the employment tribunal, by as much as 80 per cent according to some estimates. A recent survey by Citizens Advice of its clients found that at least four in five potential claimants with an employee-related case are being deterred from taking their claim to an employment tribunal by the level of fee they would face.

As an employment barrister, Nick Singer felt the impact directly in a corresponding drop in the number of instructions. He responded by seeking clients directly. Having already taken the direct access training, he registered with myBarrister, the direct access online portal, in January 2014.

“I figured that it was worth joining the myBarrister site and would probably recover my subscription if I obtained one or two instructions,” Nick says. “As it has turned out, I have had several good instructions, including two appeal cases, and have more than recovered my outlay.” Nick has taken on the cases of, variously, a doctor, an engineer and a cleaner, among others, all of whom have mounted cases against their employer.

He receives his instructions directly from clients, after their initial enquiry has been screened for viability by the myBarrister call centre. Users of the website have a choice of barristers depending on their specialist legal skills, their geographical base and, to some extent, on their personality as outlined in the barrister personal profiles. Nick says he gave a lot of thought to his profile on myBarrister.

He offers a free initial consultation to prospective clients on the phone, after which he outlines what work he thinks is required and what his fees will be. That may include an initial opinion either in writing or face-to-face, drafting tribunal documents and, should the case go to a hearing, on representation. For him the key is to develop a clear understanding and professional relationship with the client from the outset.

As Nick explains, this process can be somewhat unusual for barristers, who have traditionally developed relationships with firms of solicitors rather than the ultimate client, and it can take some getting used to. He adds that it is often more taxing than working with a solicitor, mainly due to the fact that the client usually does not already have any legal knowledge or experience.

That said, he enjoys taking on cases at an earlier stage, and advising without having to deal with huge bundles, at least initially. In addition, he does have some more control as to when the bundle for a hearing comes in and, as he has taken on more cases, he has got better at dealing with clients direct.

In the coming year, Nick is hoping to take on direct access cases from respondents as well as claimants. He believes that companies, particularly small companies, could manage more of their own employment tribunal cases, supported, as necessary, by a barrister and without having to instruct firms of solicitors to take over the whole process.

Direct access provides clients with the dual benefits of legal expertise and cost savings, Nick believes. “I can only speak for my area of law, employment law, but I have been very satisfied with the way direct access through myBarrister has worked.”

Direct Access Barrister - MyBarrister