With the changes in legal market, the Bar has been making huge improvements to improve access to justice. One of the major changes is called Direct Access or Public Access, meaning that lay clients can obtain barristers’ services directly to make the process more cost-effective and efficient. Even though this has been available since 2004, it is still relatively new territory for lay clients who are new to the concept of Direct Access services from their barrister.
I know this because I was one of those lay clients. Having been through several legal disputes in my business, and, having used both the traditional and new routes to legal advice, I experienced first hand the benefits of Direct Access and how it can improve the client experience. It is these experiences that inspired us to establish ShenSmith Barristers, to offer Direct Access legal services to many other lay clients who found themselves in a similar position.
Here are a few tips that I picked up over the years having been on both sides of the fence.
- Be prepared. I understand only too well that legal disputes, of any sort, are always unpleasant. Most people therefore tend to ignore the problem for as long as possible to avoid thinking about it, which is understandable. However, ignoring the problem usually means you will be running around at the very last minute, trying to get documents together and find an available barrister to represent you at the hearing. So I would advise you to deal with the issue immediately and head-on, however uncomfortable, so that you have plenty of time to prepare your case properly.
- Be organised. Have all of your documents and information prepared so that you can get your hands on it when ready to present them to your barrister. Your barrister will guide you as what he or she will need and do your best to have the information ready for your case.
- Choose your barrister by his/her experience, not just fees. There are a few Direct Access portals in the market now, which offer the general public a wide range of barristers and their services. Some lay clients use this as tool to shop for the cheapest legal services. Whilst this is often a very reasonable way to get the best value for your money, but as we all know, cheap doesn’t always mean it is the best option. So clients should focus on the barrister’s experiences and how responsive they are rather than simply considering their fees.
- Talk to your barrister (or barristers if your case requires more than one counsel) to get a good feel about the barrister who will be handling your case. You need to feel comfortable and confident about talking with your barrister.
- Be honest, open and upfront with your barristers. In hopes of obtaining a desirable result, some clients withhold certain information during the legal process, in the hopes that it will not impact their case. While this can be an appropriate strategy, in specific circumstances, it is normally a dangerous decision because the barrister may miss important strengths/weaknesses of your case. Not only that, barristers have a duty not to mislead the court, so if and when undisclosed facts surface, they may well have to withdraw their services, which can leave the clients in the awkward position of being unrepresented. So, it is important that you are honest and upfront with the information you have.
- Manage your expectations. Almost everyone in a legal dispute wants, and often believes their case to be a strong one. In reality, however, one side will quite often come off worse than the other, or at least not outright win. Most barristers like to go through the case to decide its merits. Some cases will have no merit or basis in law at all. In these cases, the barrister will strongly advise that the client settle the matter at the earliest opportunity in order reduce costs. However, most clients have been emotionally invested in their case for some time and find it hard to let go. If you find yourself in this position, we would strongly advise you to trust your barrister’s advice. If you are still in doubt, you can always seek a third opinion from another barrister, but this will more often than not reiterate the original opinion.
- Be prepared to move on. Win or lose, there is always damage left behind. This may be financial, emotional and even physical damage or any combination of those. When you are immersed in the problem, it will always feel even bigger and heavier than it actually is. So when the case concludes, either way, you must allow yourself to draw a line under this chapter of your life and move on.