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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Stobart firm has no truck with barristers’ traditional arrangements

The legal eagle at the Stobart Group has hit on a new idea which he says has the potential to save people thousands of pounds in legal fees.

The new business, Stobart Barristers, aims to make it quicker and easier to get direct advice from a Barrister or Queen’s Counsel (QC).

Managing director Trevor Howarth says it shortcuts what can be a long and expensive route of hiring a solicitor who may then need to engage a barrister for advice.

The current system, says Mr Howarth, has led to larger legal costs for many people – with solicitors and barristers both charging for their involvement in a case.

He says this new approach will reduce legal bills, introduce a fee at the start that the client is comfortable with, and speed up the process for those wanting quick answers to legal issues.

Mr Howarth, a former practice manager for celebrity lawyer Nick “Mr Loophole” Freeman, has strong opinions on the way solicitors operate.

He suggests some have little appetite to resolve cases quickly which can lead to snowballing legal costs.

But James Bell, head of Bell, Park and Kerridge, which has offices in Carlisle and Cockermouth, says he could see “nothing new” in the proposals. Mr Bell says: “The traditional model is that solicitors do all the groundwork, obtain the evidence, sort the wheat from the chaff, and deliver a concise brief. A concise brief is quicker to read and so solicitors can negotiate a good price from the barrister’s clerk.”

Mr Bell adds: “I use barristers very sparingly. Most of the barristers we use are in London or Manchester. Solicitors in Carlisle are fairly self-sufficient and traditionally do more court work than those in the big cities. It is not cost effective for a barrister to travel for two hours to attend a 20-minute appointment at court.”

Claire Davies, of Cartmell Shepherd, Carlisle, says: “Competition in the legal services market is good for consumers. But people should not underestimate the role of the professionally qualified solicitor in litigation.

“Solicitors spend many years training and, because they are often highly specialised, it is not necessary for clients to look any further for advice and representation.

“Solicitors do recognise that the public has concerns about the costs of litigation and are addressing those concerns by being far more upfront about fees, providing estimates and discussing alternative funding methods.”

Stobart’s opportunity seems to have grown out of little-known legislation introduced back in 2004. Called Direct Public Access legislation (DPA), it sought to make it easier for people to access a barrister directly.

It’s a law which Mr Howarth believes is little understood and has not been well-publicised.

Research of 2,000 adults showed just 14 per cent were aware of DPA and only 22 per cent said they would know how to engage with a barrister without using a solicitor.

People can access advice on criminal matters, family law, employment law, corporate and contracts work. The only field Stobart Barristers doesn’t offer support in is conveyancing.

For more information visit www.stobartbarristers.co.uk or call 0845 485 3442.

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