Direct Access: The hidden service barristers do not tell us about despite it being cheaper, faster and more efficient

Getting divorced is expensive but the legal costs involved could be cut by a third to a half if we used a Direct Access barrister.

But the problem is that Direct Access or Public Access remains largely a hidden service and is never advertised – so a vast majority of us don’t know to ask about Direct Access, therefore cannot benefit from it.

In the past members of the public were not allowed to engage the services of a barrister without first instructing a solicitor. So if you needed a barrister you would have to engage a solicitor thereby paying for two lawyers rather than just one.

Since 2010 Direct Access or Public Access schemes now permit members of the public seeking legal advice or representation on family matters to approach a barrister directly – thus eliminating the need to instruct a solicitor as well. But as with anything there are issues to consider before taking this route.

Direct Access has a number of significant benefits:

  • Direct Access can save you money – in fact it can be a third to a half cheaper because you are only paying for one lawyer not two. Overheads incurred by barristers’ chambers are lower than those of a solicitor. And there is likely to be a further saving, too, because a barrister’s hourly rates are generally less than a solicitor’s of comparable experience.
  • Direct Access gives you greater control and freedom over your own legal affairs and you get to choose your own barrister.
  • Direct Access involves your barrister from the beginning of the case and can help shape the approach taken from the outset.
  • Direct Access may enable you to get better advice earlier as family lawbarristers are 100% specialists in the area, giving you first hand expert advice and guidance.
  • Barristers are specifically trained to resolve cases as quickly as possible by negotiation or legal argument; they are also used to dealing with the unexpected in court.
  • Barristers, however senior, do their own work. You know exactly who will be handling your case whereas solicitors may delegate work on a particular case to an assistant, paralegal, caseworker or secretary.

There are nevertheless a few aspects, which need to be weighed up before approaching a Direct Access barrister. You will need to:

  • Be able to handle the paperwork involved in your case
  • Have sufficient time to carry out the day to day administrative tasks a solicitor would normally undertake
  • Keep your anxiety levels about your case in check
  • Work independently under the barrister’s guidance on the day to day management of your case.

So once you know to ask about Direct Access and have approached a Family Law barrister, he or she will consider the nature of your case and your own ability to deal with the parts of your case that would otherwise have been handled by a solicitor. But if your case is not suitable for Direct Access because the barrister considers that you do require a solicitor’s help, the barrister will do his or her best to identify a suitable solicitor to meet your needs.

1 Garden Court offers a modern, personable and cost effective way of providing assistance with family law needs. Claire Heppenstall, one of the Direct Access barristers at 1 Garden Court, explains: “The vast majority of the public remain unaware that they are able to instruct a barrister themselves in relation to family law matters and that doing so can help them get specialist family law legal advice faster and more cost-effectively.

“The advent of Direct Access is not only good news for the public but for barristers who are now able to adapt to a changing world in which even supermarkets can now offer legal advice services”.

As January fast approaches – historically one of three months when we are most likely to contact the legal profession about getting a divorce – this ‘hidden service’ is worth mentioning by name in order to benefit from it.

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