Why barristers do not give advice on the phone

Most barristers do not give legal advice on the phone. You can phone a barrister's clerk to, for example, enquire about a barrister's availability and fees, but most barristers do not give legal advice on the phone. Instead a barrister will typically obtain information from you interactively by email and provide the legal advice in the form of a written Opinion (which is like a report) or a formal Advice (which is like an Opinion but shorter and concentrates on some limited aspect).

One specific reason why barristers do not give legal advice by phone is the risk of perhaps complex advice being misunderstood. You don’t want to take action based on a misunderstanding of advice being given, and it can be difficult in a phone conversation for a lawyer to fully convey all the qualifications and options. There is also the possibility of the barrister not fully appreciating the facts as you are trying to describe them in a phone call: any legal advice is only as good as the accuracy of the facts it is based on.

A further reason is less easy to explain simply but it relates to the overall way barristers work - packaging work into fixed-price packages and using Opinions and Advices as an efficient resource for quickly refreshing memory of the case. This only works if all significant advice given is in formal written Opinions and Advices rather being scattered between a limited number of formal Opinions/Advices and a greater number of notes of telephone calls. (Advice can be given face to face in a conference but invariably the key aspects of advice given in conference will also be in an Opinion or Advice written shortly afterwards.)

This is the main reason why barristers do not give advice by phone but co-incidentally there is a historical reason also. Throughout the 20th Century which is the time period during which phones came into general use before being overtaken by email, webchat and other forms of digital communication – barristers were not permitted (by the Code of Conduct) to talk to clients without a solicitor being engaged by the client as intermediary. So the client always phoned (if they did use the phone) the solicitor and if it was appropriate for advice from a barrister to be sought the solicitor would send written instructions to the barrister to provide a written Opinion, or possibly arrange a conference with the barrister. Since 2004 barristers have been able to provide their services to clients, in some civil matters, on a “direct access” basis without a solicitor being needed, but by 2004 email was in widespread and increasing use and there was no need to contemplate using the phone – with all its inherent disadvantages where legal services are concerned - when the client was contactable by email.

This page was lasted updated in November 2020 Disclaimer