Barristers best placed for ‘gig economy’ shift, says young bar chief

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Tech-savvy barristers are ideally placed to take advantage of the so-called ‘gig economy’, Duncan McCombe of Maitland Chambers and chair of the young barristers’ committee told the conference.

The key is the trend towards unbundling, which McCombe described as ‘the realisation that the full solicitor retainer is extremely expensive and only suitable for the most complex cases. The bar is the original and the best unbundled legal service’.

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Claiming that the bar is ‘better placed than most to take advantage of technology’, he said the self-employed chambers model was the prototype for web-platform service businesses. ‘There was a time when the chambers model looked old fashioned. Not any more,’ he said, claiming that customers of Uber and Deliveroo would recognise the ‘highly efficient and unparalleled service’.

‘The bar has much to gain from the “Uberisation” of legal services if it can take advantage of technology,’ McCombe said.  

Meanwhile, London direct access practitioner Oliver Mishcon described his experience of turning the conventional referral model ‘on its head’ by retaining a law firm to carry out specific unbundled tasks for a client – a financial services firm facing investigation.

At a workshop on public access opportunities organised by the remuneration committee, Mishcon offered pointers – and warnings – for barristers hoping to build direct-access practices. He warned colleagues to take particular care over letters of engagement, for example setting out clearly whether the fee would include payment to expert witnesses.

Describing hourly rates as ‘obsolete’, he said fixed fees are the way forward. He also strongly advised requiring payment upfront: ‘You are coin-operated. You have to say at a certain point that you need to be formally engaged and that engagement involves a payment.’

Clients might be slower to part with their fee after their case had been settled, he said: ‘Timing is everything. If a firm thinks it is about to be removed from the FCA register, that’s a good time to ask for your fee.’

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