The tale of Oliver White, a barrister recently sanctioned for the second time by a disciplinary tribunal over handling client money while acting on a direct access basis, may indicate some wider lessons for the legal professions.
Firstly, the rules are certainly loosening up, but perhaps not as much as some practitioners think. As the boundaries become blurred between the branches of the legal professions and the opportunities develop for legal professionals to operate in areas outside their traditional domains, exactly where the edge of acceptable practice lies may become more difficult to determine. All the more reason, one imagines, why cautious legal services professionals should take advice on their business plan and regulatory compliance.
Secondly, if you are part of a regulated profession, expect to be regulated. This, though it is perhaps forgotten in the rush to towards a more variegated, liberalised and lower cost market for legal services, is an advantage, not a burden. Regulation ideally protects consumers, creates an aspiration towards higher standards and ensures markets operate fairly. This in turn helps bolster the professional brand. The BSB is to be applauded for requiring accountability in this case and showing the profession where the boundary lies.
Sara Jagger, director of professional conduct for the BSB, said: “The trust and confidence the public places in barristers – and the reputation of the Bar – depends on barristers behaving with integrity. “Mr White behaved without integrity when he failed to check what his powers were as a public access barrister. “They did not include handling client money or conducting litigation. Our concerns about his conduct led to Mr White being suspended for three months.”