A “procureco” or “procurement company” is defined as “a corporate entity established for the purpose of obtaining business for barristers.” The Bar Council has published Guidance Motes and Model Documents for the use of the profession. The Chair of the Bar has been touring the country holding seminars on procurecos. On Tuesday he addressed members of the Northern Circuit at Harrington Street Chambers in Liverpool which is where my clerk and I caught up with him.
Because of the appalling weather Liverpool city centre was gridlocked so we missed the beginning of the talk. However, I already knew something about procurecos having attended the special Bar Council consultation on the future of the Bar on the 26 June 2009 where the idea was first floated (see my podcast on the conference on Charon QC) and the Bar Council’s Roadshow “All Change or Not” in York on 19 Jan 2010 (see my post ‘“All Change or Not” The Bar’s Roadshow hits York.‘ to Charon QC of 27 Jan 2010). We also have our own service company in chambers which we are developing into a procureco with a view ultimately to its seeking a licence to operate as an ABS (alternative business structure) within the meaning of Part V of the Legal Services Act 2007.
The reason for the seminar is that procurecos offer a way for common law barristers to bid for publicly funded work while remaining sole practitioners. It would not be unfair to say that I heard a lot of sceptical mutterings about the proposal from the audience both in Liverpool on Tuesday and in York earlier in the year. That in my view is unfortunate because the Bar’s channels through which work has flowed to the common law Bar in the past show signs of drying up. Procurecos will require a lot of work. Barristers or their clerks will have to acquire a set of new skills. But the alternative does not bear thinking about.
One of the interesting snippets that the Chair disclosed is that there has recently been a spate of applications from Higher Court Advocates for transfer to the Bar. There seem to be two reasons for that:
- The Legal Services Commission’s proposals for Quality Assurance for Advocates which requires mentoring and support of the kind that has traditionally been provided through chambers.
- A realization that partnership creates conflicts of interest that limit the scope of work for which a practice can bid. Members of the same chambers can prosecute and defend in the same case but members of the same law firm cannot.
Although I no longer take publicly funded work I left the meeting very optimistic. Indeed I have detected an air of optimism and self-confidence that I have not seen in the profession since Lord Irvine’s Modernizing Justice white paper in 1998 or indeed Lord Mackay’s green papers of 1989. This is reinforced by the papers read to “The Future of the Bar Symposium” of 10 June 2010.