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Corporate counsel cutting out the middle man

Research has shown that many in-house teams are briefing barristers directly, circumventing law firms.

user iconTom Lodewyke 15 August 2017 Corporate Counsel
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Inaugural research from the NSW Barristers’ Clerks Association (NSWBCA) revealed that many corporate counsel are looking to brief barristers directly, rather than through an external law firm.

The association surveyed 71 Australian corporate counsel in a recent study. More than half of the respondents said they directly briefed barristers at least a third of the time, while 17 per cent said they directly briefed barristers all the time.

According to the association, the survey found that one of Australia’s largest businesses has stopped using its law firms for litigation altogether, instead managing matters in-house or briefing barristers directly.


Several other large Australian companies are following suit, the association said.

The cost pressures on in-house teams make direct briefing a logical choice.

“There is a leaner cost structure to chambers compared to law firms, and leaner advice with far less doubling up is a great advantage,” one corporate counsel told the NSWBCA.

Barristers also seem to be becoming more receptive to direct briefing. Almost 22 per cent of barristers registered on the NSW Bar Association website indicate willingness for direct briefing, up from under 10 per cent less than a year ago, according to the NSWBCA.

Consulting business Prodonovich Advisory conducted the research on behalf of the NSWBCA. Principal Sue-Ella Prodonovich said the findings reflected that while in-house teams are under mounting budget pressure, their confidence is increasing and they are taking advantage of the expanding options for legal advice available.

“Over time this trend will likely see barristers taking a larger slice of the legal pie compared to law firms,” she said.

“This may be from particular areas of work such as employment, construction and tax. However, it is possible that law firms could react by taking on their own advocates, or indeed in-house teams including litigators.

“Our research has certainly shown that clients expect barristers to adopt new technology and are open to direct briefing.”

Angela Noakes, president of the NSWBCA and clerk of Ground Floor Wentworth Chambers, said it was the first time such research had been undertaken.

“This research was commissioned because we want to service the increasing number of general counsel that brief directly, and do so without the large administrative and support base that firms often have,” Ms Noakes said.

“General counsel want to optimise their resources so there’s a range of ways they’ll engage with external advisers, including barristers.”