Why barristers do not give advice on the phone
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 barrister 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 relates to the overall way barristers work - packaging work into fixed-price units and using Opinions and Advices as an efficient resource for quickly refreshing memory of the case if it is several weeks since the last piece of work the barrister did. This way of working relies on all significant advice being given 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 contemporaneously.) When a barrister is in the process of doing a piece of work, that may be done over several days, depending on the barrister's other commitments and depending how quickly the client answers email queries from the barrister, and in complex cases the barrister may, in the course of doing that piece of work, need to re-read emails received from the client a few days earlier. If the barrister, instead of obtaining information by email from the client when doing a piece of work, spoke to the client on the telephone they would need to write down a note of what was said in each telephone call which takes time. Although barristers do not generally charge on a time basis, nevertheless when quoting a fixed fee for a piece of work a barrister will take into account how long that piece of work normally takes in a typical case of the same kind and complexity as the case they are quoting for with all communication by email and not by phone.
These are the main reasons why barristers do not give advice by phone but 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, messaging and other forms of digital communication – barristers were not permitted (by the Bar Council Code of Conduct) to talk to clients without a solicitor being engaged by the client as intermediary. So the client contacted the solicitor and if it was appropriate for advice from a barrister to be sought the solicitor would send a written Brief to Counsel to the barrister so that the barrister could provide a written Opinion. Since 2004 barristers have been able to provide their services to clients, in some matters - especially civil law matters - on a “direct access” basis without a solicitor being needed in every case, 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.
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