Monday, July 18, 2011

Partnerships for Barristers

An opinion piece in the Irish Times argues that the abolition of the current sole trader system at the Bar would "damage rather than improve both the public interest and consumer choice."
There is virtually no evidence offered for that claim. One would have thought that the efficiencies of scale offered by the law firm model would offer better returns. In any case, I doubt anyone wants to do away with sole practitioners - the objective of the reform is to allow for the creation of firms of barristers. Those who cannot find jobs in firms or prefer to practice on their own could do so.
The author also claims that the current system offers learning, efficiency and network benefits for younger barristers. A poll of barristers who have enrolled in the last 7-10 years might yield interesting results on these supposed benefits. It would also provide valuable evidence for the reform agenda.

I am also a bit bemused about this claim: "In the alternative scenario there will be a consequent squeezing out of the role of the individual independent barrister in advancing the public interest through taking unpopular pro bono or financially unrewarding cases."
Based on anecdotal evidence, it was my understanding that there is very little pro bono work done in Ireland. Far from squeezing out pro bono, the law firm model in the US has actually managed to contribute more to that cause than any other jurisdiction I am aware of.

The legal profession is in flux in many jurisdictions and the days of bar councils controlling entry into the profession and the vehicles for delivery of legal services appear to be numbered. In any case, the opinion piece is an early salvo in the debate on reform here and one hopes that the profession is serious in its objectives of reducing cost, promoting competition and advancing consumer welfare.