Traditionally, barristers could only be instructed via a solicitor. They were the only members of the legal profession who had rights of audience i.e. could talk in court and were not allowed to communicate directly with the client. This was an expensive process which meant the client always had to pay two sets of lawyers.
Since 2010 you as a member of the public can instruct a barrister directly, without the need to go through a solicitor via what is called the Direct Access Scheme. More information can be found about this on the Bar Council website here.
Doing your research is vital as choosing the right barrister could make all the difference to your case.
The advantages of having a solicitor on board was that they could and can choose your barrister for you, matching you with one they felt was right for your case and personality. However, with advances in technology and the amount of information available easily accessible via the Internet, these days it is open to the public (or, the ‘lay client’) to do their own research.
Doing your research is vital as choosing the right barrister could make all the difference to your case. Barristers tend to specialise in a particular area of law, even within family law, so get as much information as you can before making the choice. For example, even though two barristers in the same Chambers (a barrister’s office, effectively) will be in the family team, one might specialise in financial matters, and another in disputes over children.
Doing all or most of the following is recommended:
Do an online search for barristers’ chambers (offices) close to you and call and ask to speak to the Direct Access Clerk. He or she will be able to discuss your case with you and armed with that information, will be able to recommend someone suited to your case.
Make sure you do this at the earliest possible opportunity. Barristers’ diaries tend to get booked up months in advance as the Court timetable tends to be booked up several months ahead, so give yourself plenty of time.
Barristers’ diaries tend to get booked up months in advance as the Court timetable tends to be booked up several months ahead, so give yourself plenty of time.
Make contact even before you have a court date if you are at the start of your case, as your barrister will be able to guide you in how to go about making your application and what you should say, focus on and the best way in which to put your case forward.
Do an online search for barristers that have been involved in cases similar to yours. Don’t be intimidated by the reported cases (i.e. ones which contain important decisions and which are published); many websites do a summary of the issues involved and the names of the barristers involved are right on the front page of the reported case.
Ask people you know who may have been through the same thing. Don’t worry too much about geography – family barristers are usually happy to jump on a train, and word of mouth is invariably the best form of recommendation.
Seek out reliable local McKenzie friends or organisations such as Families Need Fathers or OnlyMums and OnlyDads, Family Law Direct Help, myvirtualbarrister.co.uk or the Family Separation Clinic as they are a great source of information and recommendation. Don’t listen to the media when it comes to organisations such as FNF, they are usually dads who have been through the family justice system and can offer valuable support and information. Going through a difficult time can be very isolating, especially if you are not seeing your children. It does help to know you are not the only one going through it.
Ask to meet or speak with your shortlist – very important. Contrary to popular belief, barristers (especially family barristers) are very approachable and friendly and will not mind having a short preliminary discussion with you for either a small fee or even for free. Family barristers don’t live in musty, book-lined Gothic offices and will happily talk to you face to face or via other media, e.g. Skype or Facetime.
Don’t be afraid to give it a go and make contact. Remember, it is your case and your life, not the barrister’s. If you speak with someone and you don’t feel comfortable, keep looking. As with any important decision, it is imperative that you do your research and make an informed choice.
Posted on May 21, 2018