Modernity unsettles professional certainties. For centuries the Bar has enjoyed many privileges but there has been a hollowing out of its professional core as its reserved areas have come under threat. The gradual erosion of the referral aspects of barristers' relationships with solicitors and others exposes barristers to the contingencies of the market in a raw form not usually experienced. The rising intervention of the state into the lawyer-client relationship through the control of the legal aid budget is accelerating these moves. These are moves to bureaucratic control and potential proletarianization. The Bar is losing its grip on its professional project. Or is it? One argument is that we are not observing the end of professionalism but rather various defensive manoeuvres by professionals to maintain their privileges.
Direct access by clients to barristers is one such response in a differentiated market for legal services. This has had a mixed reaction among barristers and barristers' clerks. Some see it as the route to a modern diverse profession while others see it as potentially harming these traditional relationships between barrister and solicitor that have been built up over many years. Among solicitors this has been met by their own moves to become advocates in the higher courts.
These changes are examined in the light of further changes anticipated by the Legal Services Act 2007 with the introduction of alternative business structures. These have the potential to affect traditional modes of practice with a consequent loss to barristers' autonomy.