You are probably an excellent barrister. This does not mean you will never face a complaint, and it certainly does not mean you will never get things wrong.
If you do receive a complaint, there are good resources available online. Members of the Bar operate a confidential advisory service for those against whom a complaint has been made – see http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/supporting-the-bar/member-services/barristers-complaints-advisory-service-(bcas)/.
There is guidance for the operation of a Chambers complaints procedure on the BSB website at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/code-guidance/first-tier-complaints-handling/.
- Complaints may take many forms. A minor gripe or forgotten attendance note may be sorted out by you, the client or solicitor and your clerks and should not need to involve formal procedures or the BMIF.
- If the complaint is more serious, and you are comfortable doing so, talk to other members of chambers and/or clerks if a complaint is made against you.
- You will need to speak to your Head of Chambers if the matter is serious (and you may want to even if it is not).
- Inform the BMIF as soon as possible.
- If a complaint is going to a tribunal, the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund (‘BMIF’) should pay for your representation. If for any reason it won’t, ask a more senior member of chambers for help.
- The best advice is not to sit on a complaint or put your head in the sand and hope it will go away. Engage and respond, even if it is painful or infuriating.
- Always respond to letters and emails from the BSB, as failure to do so may be a separate offence.
Carolyn McCombe, Chief Executive of 4 Pump Court says:
“I agree – and I particularly support the advice that young barristers should not put their heads in the sand and hope that any problem will go away. If they do get something wrong e.g. forget to ask for interest or costs at a hearing, it is much better that the clerks find out from them immediately rather than later from a disgruntled solicitor. Everybody makes mistakes and the sooner you put your hands up the easier it will be to deal with – the cover-up will be much more damaging than the transgression.”
Your chambers will have a complaints handling procedure, with strict timetables for procedure. You must comply with it. Every complaint must be treated seriously. If a complaint comes direct to you, inform your senior clerk or head of chambers immediately so the complaints procedure can be complied with.
Young barristers are often asked to volunteer – by working for the Bar Pro Bono Unit, at a Legal Advice or Law Centre, or by providing services free to friends, relations or charities. There is no reason why you should not do this, and it can provide valuable experience.
The Bar Pro Bono Unit is a national charity that offers opportunities for barristers to make a contribution to the community. It matches members of the public with deserving cases but who are unable to obtain legal aid and cannot afford to pay for legal representation with barristers who are willing to donate their time and expertise for free. It also operates a trustee finding service for charities wishing to appoint legally qualified trustees. For more information see: http://www.barprobono.org.uk/overview.html.
The Free Representation Unit provides representation at tribunals in social security and employment cases. There has been a significant reduction in the number of cases being brought before the Employment Tribunals and a corresponding drop in the number of volunteers required, but applications are still welcome from junior barristers and would-be barristers at all stages of their legal training and early careers. See generally http://www.thefru.org.uk/volunteers.
Barristers may supply legal services (as defined in the BSB Handbook) at a Legal Advice Centre on a voluntary or part time basis so long as they observe the requirements of rS41-42 and gS9-11 of the Handbook. The BSB’s definition of “legal services” specifically excludes “giving advice on legal matters free to a friend or relative or acting as unpaid or honorary legal adviser to any charity benevolent or philanthropic institution”, so if you are acting in any of these capacities you need not hold a current practising certificate. The situation is different if you are employed by a Legal Advice Centre.
Almost all Chambers will use diary software to record cases and financial information. It can be helpful to keep your own spreadsheet or other record of the work you have done. This is helpful so that you have a note of when you completed a piece of work and sent it out, when you were paid for work, the hours you spent on the work, and the sort of work it was. You will find this invaluable if you are instructed on the same case again in the future. It can also be helpful for matters such as filling in your BMIF return.
It is also an obligation under the BSB Handbook rC87 to ensure that your practice is efficiently and properly administered and that proper records of your practice are kept. rC88 also provides that you must have adequate records to support the fees charged in any case, so having an accurate record of the hours you have spent will stand you in good stead in case of any dispute.
- There is a wealth of information on the Bar Council and BSB websites. It’s well worth searching them for ethical and regulatory guidance, as well as helpful documents relating to all sorts of practice issues and areas.
- It is important that you know the rules that govern your professional conduct, not only for your own benefit but so you can recognise if others fall below the standards expected of barrister. You will be guilty of serious misconduct yourself if you fail to report a barrister who has committed serious misconduct to the BSB (see BSB Handbook, rC66-69, where there is guidance as to what constitutes “serious misconduct”). If you need to make a report, or wish to talk to the BSB about a possible reporting situation, contact the BSB Professional Conduct Department on 020 7611 1445.
- The BSB website is the place to go for:
– Reminders of regulatory requirements (dealt with above)
– Details of CPD requirements at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/regulatory-requirements/for-barristers/continuing-professional-development-from-1-january-2017/, and
– Practising certificate guidance (see above).
There is especially helpful Guidance for Unregistered Barristers (i.e. barristers without practising certificates) on Supplying Legal Services and Holding Out at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1731668/guidance_for_unregistered_barristers___holding_out.pdf(see BSB Handbook, Code Guidance). It gives a lot of detail on what a barrister who has been called but not obtained a practising certificate may say about his qualifications in any other working environment.
The Bar Council
Details of all Bar Council services are at http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/supporting-the-bar/. In particular:
- Training courses – see Member Services – Training Courses – especially on public access and public access top-up for barristers and clerks, litigation training, and on money laundering/POCA, credit management, and business development and marketing.
- Supplying legal services – A pupil can only supply legal services to the public once they have completed (or been exempted from) the first non-practising six months of pupillage and if they have the permission of their pupil supervisor or Head of Chambers to do so. All barristers in their first three years of practice following pupillage must work either from Chambers, or from “an office of an organisation” where there is someone qualified and willing to provide them with guidance.
- You will need a ‘qualified person’ to provide you with guidance on supplying legal services to the public, the exercise of a right of audience and, where relevant, conducting litigation. The same person may fill all three roles, provided he or she is suitably qualified. See rules S16-22 of the BSB Handbook and the related guidance for definitions and requirements.
- There is a lot of information about the practising certificate rules on the BSB website. See https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/regulatory-requirements/for-barristers/practising-certificate/. The site gives overall guidance and there are individual briefing notes on:
– The calculation of the PCF.
– The Authorisation to Practise Regime for 2015/16.
– Specific guidance on the PC regime for self-employed barristers.
– See also the link to a helpful document – ‘Guidance on Practising Certificates for Pupils and Newly Qualified Barristers’.
- Do remember that by s14 of the Legal Services Act 2007 it is a criminal offence to provide legal services (the exercise of a right of audience, the conduct of litigation, reserved instrument activities, probate activities, notarial activities, and the administration of oaths) without authorisation.
- The Bar Council Ethical Enquiries Service (phone 020 7611 1307 or email Ethics@BarCouncil.org.uk) can assist with enquiries relating to the specific circumstances in which a practising certificate may or may not be needed. Questions relating to the issue of practising certificates should be directed to the BSB via 020 7242 0934.
- See also the regulatory provisions in section D2.1 of the BSB Handbook (rules C119-131) for barristers undertaking public access work.
- Conducting litigation: don’t forget that you cannot conduct litigation (see paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the LSA 2—7 for a definition) without authorisation to do so from the BSB. In particular you cannot issue a claim or application. There is more on the definition of “conducting litigation” on the Regulatory Issues page in the Employed Bar section of the Toolkit.
- You will need a practising certificate, and you will need to satisfy the BSB that you have appropriate systems in your place of practice to enable you conduct litigation: that you have the requisite skills and knowledge of litigation procedure to enable you to provide a competent service to clients; and that you have adequate insurance.
- You will need a ‘qualified person’ (see above) if you are under three years’ standing.
Data Protection and Confidentiality
Pupils and junior tenants need to be registered under the Data Protection Act and chambers needs to have in place systems to deal with IT Security and Confidentiality. By way of example, your chambers will probably have:
- An IT Security policy which deals with such things as physical security, network perimeter security, file security, email security and authentication and authorisation.
- A confidentiality policy designed to ensure that confidential data (whether electronic or physical) remains confidential, including procedures to cover situations where different members of chambers are instructed by different parties in the same case or act as arbitrators or judges in cases where members of chambers are involved as counsel for one or other of the parties.
- A Social and Online Media code of practice which emphasises the risks which can arise from personal websites, blogs, online discussion forums or other social networking or image and video sharing platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr or YouTube.
It is essential that you take data protection issues seriously. It is all too easy to have a ruck sack stolen from a pub, or to leave a briefcase on a train. The Information Commissioner has fined several barristers heavily for data protection breaches.
Maintaining relationships with more senior members of chambers in the hope of developing opportunities for junior work – or how to impress without annoying or toadying
In many ways, Chambers can operate as an internal market, with senior members being a very important source of work for junior members. Not only this, but working with senior members gives you access to those senior members’ contacts and experience, which can be invaluable.
You may get junior work as a result of personal relationships (in particular your former supervisor), or simply because you are the one who’s available when a junior is needed for a case.
In your first years, don’t be frightened of asking QCs or senior juniors what they are working on and if you can help. This will expose you to higher calibre and more complex work, and give you opportunities to junior in future. Also do not be afraid to ask questions and go to senior members if you have a difficult case. This can benefit you in three ways: by giving you support; by giving them an opportunity to see how you approach a case; and by giving you a chance to see how they would approach such a case.
In crime, especially in London, many junior briefs go to in-house Higher Court Advocates (HCAs). Noting briefs may give you a better chance of being exposed to more complex work. If you do find yourself on a noting brief don’t just be a secretary. Always be interested in the case and remember that you are representing a client, even if they are physically absent.
Do be willing to devil written work in your first few years. This can also be a gateway into junior work later on and will help you to develop your relationships with more senior members of Chambers.
Sarah Knight says:
“You may feel in awe of or intimidated by more senior members of Chambers. Having respect for them is a good thing. You will want to impress them to hopefully secure their vote when it comes to a tenancy application, but remember that they have busy practices and will be mostly focussed on themselves and their own caseload rather than you. If you are invited to a social activity it may be worth checking first with your supervisor that it would be deemed appropriate within Chambers. If in doubt, ask about it. Remember that you are not there to make friends per se. Friendships may evolve and will do naturally over time, but for the duration of your pupillage the process requires you to maintain a balance between generally fitting in within Chambers and doing well in your work. Don’t focus on one of these to the exclusion of the other.”