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First barrister-only chambers gains ABS licence

Richmond Chambers also to become 'the first barrister-run, barrister-led entity'

11 June 2013

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The first made chambers made up of barristers and not solicitors has been licensed as an ABS by the SRA. Richmond Chambers, an immigration set based in Covent Garden, will become an ABS on 5 July 2013 and an LLP.

The development is particularly significant as the Bar Standards Board was warned by the LSB last month that it must improve if it wants to regulate entities, including ABSs.

Eastgate Chambers, a criminal advocacy practice with three solicitor directors, obtained ABS status in February this year.

Sarah Giddens will become the COLP and COFA of Richmond Chambers.

Giddens told Solicitors Journal that she believed that, along with becoming the first ABS, Richmond Chambers would become on 5 July "the first barrister-run, barrister-led entity".

She said the chambers, headed by Paul Richmond (pictured), would be regulated as an entity by the SRA while the individual barristers within in will continue to be bound by the barrister's code of conduct. A third barrister will be joining in September.

Giddens explained that the chambers would also become an LLP on 5 July, since it needed an "underlying structure" to be an ABS.

She said that when the chambers applied to become an ABS in the autumn, regulation of barrister-only entities by the Bar Standards Board was a "long way off". The BSB is yet to make a formal application.

"We don't quite know what barrister-only entities regulated by the BSB will look like or what the restrictions will be," Giddens said.

She said the chambers hoped to offer pupillages in September 2014. There are currently three paralegals, employed to assist the barristers rather than providing legal advice.

Meanwhile Giddens will retain her membership of 2 Harcourt Chambers, where she specialises in the prosecution of complex fraud and money-laundering cases.

Paul Richmond said the focus of Richmond Chambers was to provide representation to clients on a direct, public access basis, though barristers could accept instructions from solicitors in the usual way.

In a statement he said it was "often difficult for a collective of self-employed barristers" to achieve consensus on important business development issues.

"The market for the provision of legal services is in a state of flux," Richmond said. "Whilst this provides opportunities for new business models, it also means that new entrants to the market currently face a uniquely challenging environment in which sound financial management is key to successful business development.

"Recognising this, the ABS has allowed us to bring in a non-lawyer owner with significant financial management experience to our management team, to ensure the financial stability of chambers in its early years, as well as its successful growth and development in the longer term.

"Our experience to date has revealed that whilst international clients are attracted to the opportunity of seeking advice and representation from the Bar, many are more comfortable instructing a regulated entity rather than a regulated individual.

"Practising as an ABS has enabled us to offer our international clients the protection of two regulatory regimes - a barrister regulated by the BSB, practising from a chambers that is regulated by the SRA."

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