Artesian Law was formed out of frustrations with the traditional chambers structure in England
As six members of a traditional criminal set – of between 12 and 34 years of call – it became increasingly clear to us that the chambers structure in England is, in many respects, out-dated, uncompromising and struggling to cope with the challenges that face us all in practice as members of the self-employed bar.
A new model
None of us wanted change – we are all proud to be members of the bar, and proud of its traditions – but looking at the realities of criminal practice, we turned our minds to creating a legal structure which could allow us to compete in this ‘market’ on a more level playing field. As well as frustration with the chambers model, there were other drivers for us. There was the threat of ‘one case, one fee’ and the cheaper alternative of “in-house” trial advocates available to solicitors.
Having undergone the training to do direct access work we were galled by the introduction of Annexe F2 to the Code of Conduct which forbids a barrister to take on direct access work from a lay client ‘in which it is likely that the lay client would be eligible for public funding’. That obviously excluded almost all criminal instructions by direct access. Solicitors are able to simply send out a letter to tell clients that they may be eligible, but we can’t. We did not want to wait for the BSB to change the rule.
As a result, Artesian Law, a legal disciplinary practice regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), was born. We remain individually regulated by the BSB and intend that Artesian should operate at the highest level of advocacy like a traditional chambers but in a more modern and imaginative manner. We are different in that our practice is based on cloud technology using LEX Chambers Management, meaning we mainly work from home when not in court. We maintain just a small office just off Fleet Street, keeping our overheads low.
Dealing with the regulators
Neither the BSB nor the SRA have put any hurdles, but getting established and pushing through the regulatory thicket has taken longer than expected. Everything we do is new to the regulatory authorities.We are a partnership in the true sense of the word. We have a partnership agreement, we share profits, and we meet regularly as a group. Each member takes responsibility for a different part of the business, but we are all rowing together. This core group will remain running the practice. We will also be joined by new associate members – in fact, just last recently we announced the appointment of Bryan Cox QC. Any associate member may retain their existing chambers memberships, but will also work through and with us where appropriate.
Attracting law firms
Another interesting option opened up by the LDP structure is shown by the solicitor who has joined as an associate member while she conducts a particular case. She benefits from our systems and insurance, and our low overheads, while we gain financially too. There are other solicitors talking to us about attaching their practices to Artesian.In the future solicitors’ firms may well be able to sub-contract their work to us. This, of course, will be subject to the regulator’s approval and we continue to work with them in exploring all of these options.
We recognise that it is not only the Bar’s fees that have been cut but also those of solicitors firms, many of whom are struggling to maintain their offices. We wish to explore sharing resources with our instructing solicitors. By entering into an agency agreement we would use their existing facilities and would effectively be sharing the costs of their existing office, conference rooms and administrative/secretarial support.
Clerk versus practice manager
Our structure also enables us for the first time to give proper recognition to the pivotal role played by clerks. We neither consider nor call Tom Street a clerk (he’s our practice manager).It is fair to say that at first some instructing solicitors were wary or just confused by our model. But once they realised that we aim to operate in the usual way, as trial advocates instructed by solicitors, and in fact can work much more in partnership with them, this has fallen away.
The partners at Artesian Law are Stephen Mejzner, Jonathan Rose, Daniel Jones, Tarquin McCalla, Dominic Thomas, Michael Neofytou and James Nicholls. Our only regret thus far is that we didn’t do this sooner.