Rising commercial pressures are causing barristers in the UK to take bigger risks according to the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) first ever Risk Outlook. The report found that the growing commercial pressures being placed on legal professionals are leading them to compromise on ethical standards when dealing with clients.
The BSB report indicates this is arising largely from the increasingly competitive nature of the legal services market. They also highlight that extensive cuts to legal aid, which have led to more people representing themselves in court, are taking a financial toll on the profession.
While the report acknowledges that “commercial pressures and interests do not themselves constitute a regulatory issue, in fact they may stimulate positive growth and innovation” it also recognises that these can “result in a compromising of ethical principles, lowering of standards and unrealistic or hidden pricing in order to win business”. The BSB highlights that diminishing ethical standards are bad for both the sustainability of the profession and the consumer, who relies on the market for quality legal advice.
Powerful clients and changes to the legal system are also ‘leaning on’ on legal professionals according to the report. The BSB warns of the growing influence of financially important clients, who may put members of the bar under pressure to behave in a way which is neither in the interest of the public or justice. The BSB expresses its fear that in an attempt to win or retain clients barristers “could resort to financial tactics that harm the wider public interest and threaten the Bar’s independence.”
Barristers need to ensure that they continue to act in a way that promotes the sustainability of the profession. While compromising on ethics to win business may be financially beneficial at present, diminishing these standards will only damage the reputation of the profession in the long run.