LegalEagleStar

… a kind of Legal Column

Shatter’s Legal Services Bill spells doom for the young Junior Bar and protects the Elites to the detriment of the Citizen.

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I have spent some time investigating the effects of the proposed changes in legislation by Minister Shatter and discussed same with several members of the Irish Bar. It was only after speaking with a young junior barrister that I realised the full impact of what will in fact take place. The article that follows has been written by a young female barrister and gives an insider’s view of what the reality of the changes will mean in practice. It is clear to me that Alan Shatter certainly did not have the interests of the Irish Citizen at heart when he set about drafting his proposed reforms. While those that know me are well aware on my views on the Troika and their suspicious agenda, I feel that the implementation of the proposed reforms will undermine the practice of law in this country to the detriment of the citizen and should be opposed by all right thinking citizens before it is too late. Beware of the Elites and their hunger for power and control of the citizen. Don’t say you haven’t been warned !

The Legal Services Regulation Bill[1]

The Irish legal profession has always relied on the essential requirement of being a completely independent profession, the new Legal Services Bill completely undermines that notion. Indeed it would seem that it is Minister Shatter’s personal agenda which is at the core of this new bill. An agenda which undermines the core of the Irish Bar; independence. The Bill comes about as a requirement under the EU/IMF bailout and is said to be a necessity in the profession. While it is acceded that some reform in the area of legal services is both needed and welcomed, both by the Bar Council and indeed the Law Society, the Bill in its proposed form goes far beyond the proposals presented both by the Legal Costs Working Group and the Competition Authority as well as going completely beyond and even against international principles in regulating the legal profession.

The public are being wrongly informed that this Bill will reduce costs for the consumer when in fact, the opposite will occur. The ‘independent referral bar’ is an equal opportunity workplace, based in the law library where barristers are sole traders. If the idea of barristers forming partnerships with other barristers, solicitors, tax accountants etc come into place, the independent referral bar will be lost forever. As a Barrister in the early years of practice, the idea of barristers going into such partnerships is a frightening proposition. Many colleagues with years of experience and established practices will have people lining up to form partnerships with them but many young practitioners wont have such luck. Such partnerships would likely divide the legal profession even more in that the big firms would go into partnership with several established, highly ranked and busy practitioners and create a sort of monopoly, not dissimilar to the US financial sector, and look what happened there. Smaller firms would find themselves in significant difficulty trying to complete with such large firms and while the bar in its current form is accessible to all, the proposals make access to barristers and access therefore to justice more restricted.

The proposed changes would create a barrier for those people who wish to join the profession and indeed those younger practitioners wishing to stay and establish themselves within the profession. The UK have a system known as chambers. In the English Bar Council’s 2006 Report, only 17.5% of people graduating from the Bar would obtain a place in chambers. This stage is known as pupilage (similar to what is referred to as ‘deviling’ in this jurisdiction) so this system, if brought about here, would restrict access to the profession even further. It is difficult in the current economic climate to establish yourself as a self-employed person in any area of work, not least the bar. However, the current system, while it is competitive and challenging, what it provides is an equal opportunity for every person who has qualified, a chance to make it in the profession.

A chambers type system, like that which exists in the UK, would see several partnerships consisting of a select few barristers and which would in return be linked to the large firms and therefore increase costs rather than reduce them. Young barristers frequently take on cases on a pro bona basis for several reasons, experience, interest of justice etc but also to establish relationships with solicitors, an obvious essential in creating a practice and living for yourself at the bar. A young barrister, if lucky enough to even get in a chambers or partnership, would not be able to take on such work without the approval of a higher power. This cannot be said to increase access to justice and reduce costs. The barrister is restricted in taking on the work and the consumer cannot then afford to take the case.

While I see these changes from a young practitioners point of view, these partnerships would also cause serious problems for the consumer and access to justice from their point of view. Should they not be able to afford the sometimes inordinate fees which these larger firms charge, they in effect, cannot have access to some of the more established barristers or barristers who have an expertise in a certain area, as they will be in these partnerships. In the current system, whether you go to a large or small firm, if you request a particular barrister for whatever particular reason known to yourself, if they hold themselves out as an expert in a certain area, they must take on your case[2].

The Bill brings about new levies for practitioners, another cost which will impact the small firms and young barristers. The new structure will bring about a situation where barristers liability insurance will be more specific as opposed to general as it is in its current form. As a young barrister, you take work where you can get it and you pay a general insurance amount which covers all areas. The new proposals could change that and your premium could go up depending on your areas of practice and therefore you would have to turn down work, which could be a new area and therefore a new opportunity for you, because you haven’t got insurance to cover you in that specific area. No young barrister would ever or should ever have to turn down work.

A huge issue for the profession in general is that it will effectively be governed entirely by the Government or, more specific, the Minister for Justice, therefore removing the word independent from every area of the legal profession. The proposed Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) would be the regulatory body which would contain eleven members, seven of which would be entirely Government appointed. Only four from the Bar Council and Law Society. Practitioners would pay for this and the Government would run it. The LSRA would and must refer to the Minister at almost every point or hurdle.

The ‘separation of powers’ which is at the core of the Irish Constitution is in serious jeopardy. Justice must not just be done, but be seen to be done. The former Chief Justice Ronan Keane recently stated that regulators of the legal profession must not only be seen to be independent but be truly independent in every aspect, the Legal Services Regulation Bill completely “Shatters” that notion.


[1] Reference is made to the Article “The Legal Services Regulation Bill”, Shelley Horan BL. The Bar Review, Volume 17, Issue 1, February 2012.

[2] This is known as the ‘cab-rank rule’

LegalEagleStar , Friday , 16th. March , 2012.

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