19 June 2018

BSB agrees approach to improve transparency for clients of the Bar

23 February 2018

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has set out a revised approach to improve transparency standards for clients of the Bar. This responds to the recent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study of legal services and takes full account of responses to a recent BSB consultation.

The proposals agreed in principle at the regulator's recent Board meeting include:

  • targeting new price transparency requirements on the more standardised services provided by Public Access barristers, who provide services direct to the public and whose clients are most likely to benefit from "shopping around";
  • working closely with Specialist Bar Associations to develop guidance for barristers providing these services;
  • considering whether in relation to Public Access work disclosure requirements should apply only to certain chambers (which could be defined by size or type of service provided);
  • giving further consideration as to whether all chambers' websites should be required to state their most commonly used pricing models and that professional and/or lay clients (as appropriate) may contact chambers to obtain a quote;
  • requiring all chambers' websites to state the areas of law in which they most commonly provide services;
  • requiring all chambers with Public Access registered barristers to display a link through to the guidance for lay clients on the BSB's website;
  • requiring all chambers' websites to display a BSB logo, the text "barristers regulated by the Bar Standards Board" and information about any right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO); and
  • further consumer testing to make sure that any disclosure requirements placed on barristers strike the right balance between helping consumers make informed decisions whilst not delivering overly complex information.

The regulator agreed not to proceed with proposals to require chambers to publish first-tier complaints data. However, it will consider a requirement for chambers' websites to link to the BSB's Barristers' Register to enable clients to search for any current disciplinary findings by the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS) in line with the BSB's disclosure policy. The BSB will also explore the feasibility of a similar arrangement for complaints which have been upheld by LeO.

In considering how best to target new disclosure requirements, the Board agreed that delivering a proportionate approach to the CMA market study is best achieved by focussing on the Public Access Bar, where clients will most benefit from greater transparency of information about services, fees and rights of redress. The regulator agreed not to impose disclosure requirements in relation to hourly rates and fixed fees on barristers undertaking work referred by solicitors. However, the regulator's view is thatallbarristers should be required to meet minimum transparency standards in relation to service and redress.

The BSB has gathered evidence to inform its work through a series of "pilots" and will continue to undertakefurther research. This will ensure that its approach is robust and that any mandated disclosure requirements placed on barristers are reasonable and proportionate and, most importantly, will benefit consumers.

BSB Director of Strategy and Policy, Ewen MacLeod, said:

"We agree with the CMA that greater transparency at the Bar should enable consumers to shop around when looking for a barrister and promote competition in the market.

We have listened to the responses to our recent consultation and we agree that any new transparency requirements must be properly targeted and that poorly targeted requirements may not be helpful for consumers. Our regulation needs also to reflect the fact that the Bar remains a predominantly referral profession in which most clients do not purchase legal services direct from barristers.

As a result of our consultation, the scope of our proposals has therefore changed and we believe that our more focused and targeted approach will continue to benefit consumers and the wider public, whilst working closely with the profession to ensure that our final proposals are feasible and proportionate." 

Following a further rule change consultation planned for later this year and approval by the Legal Services Board (LSB), these transparency requirements will come into force by May 2019. However, the BSB is not proposing to make compliance with any fee transparency requirements mandatory until early 2020. The effectiveness of the new requirements rules will be evaluated from December 2020.

A summary of the consultation responses received by the BSB can be found here

ENDS

Notes to editors

About the Bar Standards Board

Our mission is to regulate barristers and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales in the public interest. For more information about what we do visit: https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/

Contact: For all media enquiries call: 0207 611 1452 or email press@barstandardsboard.org.uk .