Public Access FAQ

Intellectual Property Office
Crown Copyright

Jane Lambert

26 Oct 2016

What is "Public Access"?

An arrangement that allows members of the public to consult or instruct a barrister without instructing a solicitor, patent or trade mark attorney or some other intermediary first. You will find more information about that arrangement on the Bar Council's website.

Why should any member of the public want to consult a barrister directly?

There are some tasks that barristers do particularly well such as advising on difficult points of law, drafting complex legal instruments or representing parties in negotiations or before courts and tribunals. That is why solicitors, patent and trade mark attorneys and other professionals go to them. In IP Services from Barristers 6 April 2013 I discussed how barristers can help with intellectual property matters.

What sort of matters are suitable for Public Access?

Here are some examples.

General Advice: 
I can advise on the optimum legal protection for your brands, designs, technology or artistic or literary creations having regard to your business plan and resources. I can also advise you of possible risks to your business from your competitors' patents, design and trade mark registrations and other intellectual property rights. If you need help from patent or trade mark attorneys or other professionals, IP insurance or some other service, I can help you make your choice.

Drafting and Negotiation: I can draft, review and advise on every type of legal instrument from a simple non-disclosure agreement to a complex software development agreement. That includes standard terms and conditions, website access terms, end user licence, franchise, joint venture, software maintenance and escrow agreements. I can also help you negotiate other commercial contracts.

Intellectual Property Office Proceedings: I can represent you in ex parte, opposition or invalidity hearings in the Trade Marks Registry (see If the examiner says "no" - ex parte hearings in the Trade Marks Registry 10 Aug 2015 IP London and Oppositions in the IPO's Trade Marks Registry 12 Aug 2016 IP London) and other proceedings in the Intellectual Property Office such as entitlement disputes (see see Disputes over Ownership of Inventions 6 Aug 2015 IP South-East).

Court Proceedings: I can advise and appear for you in court in emergencies such as applications for search orders, freezing injunctions and other urgent court orders or in applications to discharge them. I can also advise or assist you in the small claims track of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

Domain Name Disputes: I can advise you and draw up complaints or responses for proceedings before WIPO, Nominet or other domain name dispute resolution panellists. I have particularly good credentials for this sort of work as I decide domain name disputes on behalf of the WIPO.

IPO Opinions: I can prepare requests for opinions and observations on third parties' requests for opinions on such questions as whether a patent is valid or whether it has been infringed.

What sort are not?

Anything that requires a team such as heavy litigation or complex negotiations or drafting or expertise that barristers do not have such as drafting a patent application and corresponding with the Intellectual Property Office. A barrister might still be required to assist but he or she would do so upon the instructions of the solicitor or attorney.

You may still consult a barrister on any of those matters because a competent barrister will usually refer you to a solicitor, patent or trade mark attorney or other professional with the right skills and experience.  Public access is an alternative way of accessing legal services and it can work out be better and cheaper than starting with a solicitor or attorney in some instances.

What are the advantages of Public Access?

if you understand the issue upon which you require advice and know the sort of expertise you require Public Access can save you time and money because you go straight to the adviser you need. Not every law firm has expertise in every area of law and it has occasionally been known for professional intermediaries to go to the wrong barrister or to ask the wrong question. There may also be some duplication (which the client has to pay for) as more than one lawyer is involved.

Are there any disadvantages?

It is not always easy to identify the barrister with the right skills and experience unless you educate yourself in the area of law upon which you require advice.  If, for instance, you want to learn about intellectual property you can start with this website and perhaps others such as the Intellectual Property Office. You can also attend workshops and seminars offered by the Business and IP Centre of the British Library and others.

What do solicitors and attorneys think of Public Access?

Some resented it in the early days but the better ones have found that it to be a source of work. That is because barristers are duty bound to refer matters that require a solicitor or attorney to the appropriate professional. Even those who do object to Public Access are unlikely to take out their resentment on their clients.

How do I instruct a barrister under Public Access?

You can start the ball rolling with a simple phone call or email.  If you want to consult me call  +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form at other times. We will then discuss the work that needs to be done and agree a fee. I will then send you a client care letter that specifies the work, when it is to be delivered, the terms and conditions upon which it is to be done and the fee, I will need proof of your identity and residence to comply with the rules against money laundering. Once those formalities have been completed and you have signed and returned a copy of the client care letter I do the work and you pay the fee.

If you want me to do more work later we shall draw up a fresh agreement.

How much will this cost me?

It depends on how much work has to be done but for many services I offer flat fees. For instance, I charge £500 for drafting a simple contract and £1,000 for drawing up a complaint or response in a domain name dispute.  One thing I can guarantee is that you will not have any nasty surprises. The fee or charging basis will have been agreed in advance and set out in the client care letter.

What if I am not happy with your service?

You complain to me first and I shall try to put it right it in accordance with my complaints policy. If you are still not happy with my response then you can go to the Legal Services Ombudsman. The client care letter will set out your options in  more detail.

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