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Direct action

There are many benefits to directly briefing barristers for in-house counsel, writes ACLA CEO Trish Hyde.

There are many benefits to directly briefing barristers for in-house counsel, writes ACLA CEO Trish Hyde.

Two out of every five in-house counsel have done it in the past 12 months, some more than five times.

It is not a new concept, but it is one that cost-conscious, savvy in-house lawyers are employing more and more. The ‘it’ I’m referring to? Directly briefing a barrister.

The principle is simple — by directly briefing a barrister you get timely, cost-effective, expert advice that can be used by the organisation to understand a litigation risk, develop a strategy or fill an expertise gap in the in-house team’s advice.

In the recent ACLA Trends Survey, 34 per cent of in-house lawyers said they had directly briefed a barrister between one and five times in the past year, and a further eight per cent said they had directly briefed a barrister more than five times in the year. Litigation support, specialist industry knowledge and issues management were the top matters in-house counsel used this practice method for.

The survey also identified why in-house counsel chose to use direct briefing: more that 70 per cent go to a barrister for specialist expertise. Other advantages cited for direct briefing included: accessing cost-effective advice (58%); direct-and-to-the-point advice (35%); quick advice (28%) and advice to enhance the organisation’s decision making (21%).

So, with all these good reasons to be directly briefing a barrister, why aren’t more people using this practice method?

The answer is two-fold.

Firstly, direct briefing is not right for everyone or in every circumstance. Accessing a barrister to get a discreet piece of advice on a specialised subject matter is effective as it leverages their skill and knowledge base. But they cannot replace law firms. The value of law firms comes from the longer-term work and ability to understand a client’s long-term needs.

Secondly, there is a false perception that direct briefing is difficult. Images of specially-drafted briefs tied with ribbon come to mind and this image leaves the impression that it is complicated. Ironically, this couldn’t be further from the truth. When I mentioned this perception to a barrister’s clerk, he laughed, pointed at the phone on his desk and said it is as easy as picking up the phone and calling the barrister. While this may be a little too informal for some, it is a long way from the specially-drafted briefs tied with ribbon.

In a former role, I used direct briefing of barristers to get advice to support strategy development and tactical implementation into corporate communications. I have seen the benefits firsthand – a 12-hour turnaround and expert opinion that is concise and implementable. It was a perfect fit for what we were after.

If you are looking for a barrister, ACLA members can access the ACLA online barrister directory, which is searchable by specialty and lists more than 200 barristers.

Trish Hyde is the CEO of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association, the professional body for in-house lawyers.

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