BSB publishes new research on consumers’ expectations and experience of working with barristers

 The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published research on consumers’ expectations and experience of working with barristers. As an evidence-based regulator acting to protect and promote the interests of consumers, this new research helps the BSB to gain an up-to-date understanding of what consumers expect from barristers and the findings here will inform the regulator’s work in many areas.

The research was undertaken by IRN research, an independent research agency. It involved in-depth interviews with 50 consumers who had used the services of a barrister in the previous two years (therefore referred to as clients of barristers), followed by focus group discussions involving 12 participants with the aim of exploring issues raised in the interviews in more detail.

The research sample focused on both clients who had been referred to their barristers by a solicitor, and Public Access clients who chose their barristers directly. Additionally, it included five in-depth interviews with consumer support organisations to provide additional insight into consumer needs and experiences within the legal system.

The research also includes views of clients in vulnerable circumstances and considered the impact of the health emergency on the expectations clients have of barristers providing services remotely.

The key findings from the research show that:

  • Very few clients are completely confident that they can deal with a legal matter when it first occurs. For most, it is a completely new experience, often stressful and with an uncertain outcome.

  • Many clients who are referred by a solicitor to their barrister are referred to just one barrister and have little or no involvement in this decision. While most clients feel that the referral to just one barrister did not impact on the usefulness of the advice given, the research indicated that there are opportunities to involve clients more in this early decision to select a barrister.

  • At the start of their engagement with a barrister, most clients have little understanding of a barristers’ duties or how the relationship will work. The research suggests that most barristers are diligent in reassuring a client at an early stage, explaining how the legal process will work and working in the best interests of the client.

  • COVID-19 has led to some hearings being held virtually and these were a good experience for most participants. Reasons included that there was no need for travel or childcare logistics, and the hearing itself was less formal and less intimidating for participants especially in contentious situations.

  • Most clients were satisfied with the way their barrister dealt with the legal process. Key indicators of good service identified by clients included: professionalism; approachability; friendliness and empathy; experience and knowledge; and accessibility. However, the research also indicated that stress of the legal process itself can reduce dissatisfied clients’ motivation and willingness to complain – even if they were aware of where to direct their complaint.

  • Many clients are unlikely to dwell too much on regulation and complaints procedures when they are starting a legal matter. When interviewees were asked what they understood regulation to involve, most associated regulation with a certain level of professional conduct and standards, plus the holding of appropriate legal qualifications.

BSB Head of Policy and Research, Rupika Madhura, said:

“This is an important piece of research which will help us gain a deeper insight into the experience of barristers’ clients. It complements others’ recent studies about consumers’ experience in the legal services market, and will help inform our work in various areas, in particular the review of the Code of Conduct expected of barristers.”

The Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) and Legal Services Board (LSB) regularly undertake research with legal consumers, including regular large-scale surveys in the LSCP Tracker Survey and the LSB Legal Needs Survey. This research complements this work by focussing solely on the Bar.

A summary of the research findings can be found here on the BSB website.

The full research can be found here on the BSB website.

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