Law firm brings barristers in-house
LAW FIRM Maples and Calder is planning to shake up the market for legal services here by bringing courtroom advocacy functions traditionally carried out by junior counsel in-house to eliminate duplication of roles.
The firm believes this could save clients up to 20 per cent of their trial costs.
The advocacy service will be offered to clients involved in High Court and Commercial Court litigation.
Maples is thought to be the first commercial law firm in Ireland to do this and other firms might follow suit.
It might also signal the beginning of a turf war between barristers and solicitors, especially as the new Legal Services Bill is expected to remove the sharp distinction between the two arms of the legal profession here.
There are currently more than 2,300 barristers in the State.
Over the past 18 months, Maples and Calder has hired five barristers who have served as junior counsel to its advocacy unit, which is being led by partner Dudley Solan. The new hires are training to become solicitors.
Mr Solan said the firm plans to grow this team from within by encouraging its solicitors to “develop these [advocacy] skills”.
“We have established this group so that our services don’t stop at the courtroom door,” Mr Solan said. “For clients this will result in better in-house service and less duplication.”
At present, law firms brief junior counsel and, where required, senior counsel, to litigate in the higher courts on behalf of their clients.
The preparation work is undertaken by the solicitors in the firm and then passed on to barristers. The solicitors invest time in getting to grips with the factual background, evidence, documents and legal issues relevant to whatever issue is at dispute.
Maples believe that for the majority of cases in the higher courts it should not be obligatory or necessary to duplicate work through employing a junior counsel.
All of the major English and Welsh law firms have advocacy teams in-house.
Maples said clients would still be offered the option to employ junior counsel if they wish.
Legal fees are a hot topic in Ireland at present and have been a focus for the EU-IMF “troika”, with reform a condition of Ireland’s bailout. The National Competitiveness Council recently found legal fees are more than 12 per cent higher than in 2006.