Exchange Chambers welcomes comments by Lord Chief Justice

November 29, 2013

Exchange Chambers has welcomed the views of the new Lord Chief Justice on driving down the high costs of legal bills in the capital to make justice more accessible.

In his first formal speech since taking up his post, Lord Thomas set out a radical programme for devolving work to courts and law firms in other parts of the country.

At present the cost of litigation was far too great, Lord Thomas said. Referring to a case he dealt with last year, he gave the example of a dispute between the Coal Authority and Welsh local councils. Both had consulted solicitors from the same firm.

The Coal Authority went to the Sheffield office of the company and were charged £198 an hour for work by the partners. The Welsh local government side employed the firm’s solicitors in London and were charged £510 an hour. The quality of the work was the same, if not better from the Sheffield branch, Thomas said. The court ruled that it was unreasonable for Welsh councils to use the London lawyers.

“Why go to the highest charging lawyer when you can go to one who is just as good but given the fact they are based in, say, Leeds, they can charge less,” Thomas asked. “Such increased competition from a truly national market will affect London prices. To compete, those prices will need to come down, which consequently will produce a benefit to society as a whole as it will increase the affordability of justice.”

Commenting on Lord Thomas’ views, Tom Handley, Director of Chambers at Exchange Chambers said:

“Lord Thomas’ views will strike a chord with barristers, solicitors – and their clients – throughout the country.

“The London Bar is immensely strong – it always will be – but many of the country’s leading silks and juniors are developing their practices from regional sets where expertise and strength in depth is similarly demonstrated.

“Often, there is simply no need to go to London when the regional bar is so strong.  Regional Chambers have the advantage of being very competitive in terms of fees. Property costs and general overheads are lower which means a high quality service can be delivered at a lower cost.”

Concluded Tom:

“The larger regional Chambers are no longer the poor relations to London sets in terms of infrastructure and resources.  There are also recruitment advantages to being based outside the capital. Members’ contributions from barristers are well below London rates while new pupils are attracted not only by the enhanced work life balance on offer but also by the promise of working on quality cases closer to home.”