Barristers were left £2.7m out of pocket by solicitors who failed to pay their fees last year, new figures have revealed.
The Bar Council’s first ever annual report said that its fees collection unit received complaints from barristers about 2,315 fee notes unpaid by solicitors, representing £5.2m in unpaid fees. In the same year, £2.5m was recovered.
The way the Bar deals with unpaid fees is set to change significantly after the Bar Standards Board (BSB) won approval in July for amendments to its code of conduct to introduce standard contractual terms.
Currently, while increasingly barristers are seeking to agree contractual terms with solicitors and so mitigate the risk of non-payment of fees, they are not obliged to accept instructions on negotiated contractual terms. The BSB argues that this undermines the cab-rank rule.
Under the BSB’s scheme, if a solicitor seeks to instruct a barrister on its New Contractual Terms (NCT) or on the individual barrister’s own advertised terms, the cab-rank rule will apply. If they want to instruct them on any other terms, it will not. The BSB expects many barristers to use the NCT.
Further, if a firm of solicitors does not pay a barrister’s fees, and an award made by the joint Law Society/Bar Council tribunal remains unpaid, and/or a court has given judgment in favour of the barrister, the unpaid barrister can complain to the Bar Council under a new list of defaulting solicitors.
If the solicitors are placed on it, then the cab-rank rule will not apply to any barrister receiving instructions from those solicitors.