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Barristers to the rescue for talent-short firms

Barristers to the rescue for talent-short firms

THE SENIOR junior bar provides the best value for money for legal advice anywhere in Sydney, one senior corporate in-house counsel recently told the president of the New South Wales Bar…

THE SENIOR junior bar provides the best value for money for legal advice anywhere in Sydney, one senior corporate in-house counsel recently told the president of the New South Wales Bar Association.

The bar’s low overheads and uncomplicated structure mean that Barristers are able to charge themselves out to corporate counsel and law firms alike at a competitive rate. As both firms and in-house teams re-evaluate strategies to save costs, Barristers are becoming an excellent source of talent to fill the gap left by the talent shortage, on an ad hoc basis.

NSW Bar Association president Michael Slattery will tell his members in an upcoming issue of the Association’s magazine Bar News that corporate clients are now discovering that the bar’s services are price-competitive and are an excellent alternative to more expensive private practice lawyers.

“There is a rising phenomenon of in-house corporate counsel directly briefing the bar,” said Slattery. “They are doing so without retaining external solicitors, especially where quick informal advice is needed about potentially litigious issues, about small to medium size transactional work and about specialised areas of practice such as tax and intellectual property.”

Slattery told Lawyers Weekly that in fact firms have also been briefing barristers for this type of work for some time. The NSW Barristers’ Rules permit this type of work and expressly authorise “advising on documents to be used in a client’s affairs”.

As firms and corporate counsel face a shortage at the three-to-five-year level of lawyers, they are searching for innovative ways to supplement their teams. But conservative budgets also mean they can’t just pay more to compete with other organisations for talent.

According to the Centre for Professional Services Management’s principal, Ray D’Cruz, many firms are beginning to refer work to the bar to handle an overflow that would normally be done by lawyers at the three-to-five-year level.

“Litigation departments are outsourcing large parts of the discovery process to the bar,” he said.

“The firms don’t necessarily want to go and recruit a bunch of lawyers, or can’t recruit a number of lawyers, for some large matters, that just require competent legal minds to sort through vast documents. But the bar provides a ready source of cost-effective and very talented labour,” D’Cruz said.

According to Slattery, this type of general advisory work for barristers is likely to expand substantially in the next five to 10 years.

He said he also expects that government authorities will in future expect tenders for legal services to specify how they will save the government client money, by indicating what kinds of legal services can be briefed out to the bar.

“As the bar is not a direct competitor of the tendering firm there can be little objection to this from tenderers. Calls for tenders for legal services may well contain such a requirement in the near future,” Slattery said.

For barristers, working for firms and in-house teams on an ad hoc basis is an excellent way to fill the coffers when they are short of work. The nature of their work means that junior barristers in particular can have a difficult time earning an income.

“For many young barristers there is a lot of bread-and-butter work in this, and it helps sustain their practice in the early stages. It is common, especially on larger matters,” said D’Cruz.

He argued that this type of work can be an attractive proposition for young barristers. “It is good for junior barristers as their workflow comes in peaks and troughs. Having this regular work at $150 an hour, that gets paid on time, can fill the troughs,” he said.

This ad hoc work can also be an excellent way for barristers to build networks within the profession. “They build relationships with other barristers and build relationships with other firms. At one level it might be considered not as exciting as some other work that barristers might do, but it is attractive from many other points of view,” D’Cruz said.

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