‘We want to break the myth that there’s only one way to address a legal problem’

barristers' wigsINTERVIEW: ‘We’re not some truckers who wanted to get into the law,’ Chaman Salhan, a partner at a Birmingham-based criminal defence firm about a new service to give the public easy online access to barristers’ opinions. The founder of 2ndOpinionNow told LegalFutures their lawyers had ‘been involved in the law for a long time, and wanted to provide simpler, cheaper and more convenient solutions’. You can read about Eddie Stobart’s foray into direct access on LegalVoice here.

Salhan is a director of then Birmingham firm  Salhan & Co. 2ndOpinionNow offers legal advice in the traditional way and as an alternative by a written opinion from a barrister. There is a price tariff for an opinion from a barrister in each category of law.’You choose the seniority, dependent on budget ,’ its website says. Standards advice takes seven business days and there is a fast track service within four business days. Alongside chief executive Salhan, there are two silks on the board – Michael Wolkind QC, 2 Bedford Row and Jon Whitfield QC, Doughty Street Chambers.

Chaman Salhan talks to Caislin Boyle.

What made you want to set up 2ndOpinionNow? I attempted to set something like this up in 1998/99, but at that point people were reluctant about the Internet. I revisited the idea in 2012, as I believed people would want a convenient, quick way to obtain legal advice on a problem they may have from the security of their own home.

How are you different to Stobarts, in terms of your service and what you offer? In a nutshell, there are lots of companies that provide a service, but they only offer a conduit to people. They don’t add value. With work, people can find legal help themselves. By contrast, what we’re doing is completely revolutionary. In response to a problem, you will get a written opinion from a specialist barrister in that area. We are arming people with information in a convenient, secure and cheaper way.

It has taken two years to be up and running. Anything innovative takes time. We are breaking the traditional mould with respect to how people are approaching legal problems. We provide options for people with a range of financial capabilities, and a new thing we provide is examples of written opinions for free.

The difference between us and Stobart is they weren’t regulated. They didn’t offer legal advice. It has taken two years to become SRA regulated. We are trying to give people access to justice.

What has the response from chambers been like? It has been good. We’re opening the market up. It combats the situation where solicitors rely only on certain barristers, and only use them. As a regulated law firm, we can instruct any barrister, and are not limited to a select pool. It has also enabled anyone to get access to justice, whether you’re in Mid-Wales, the West Country or a big city, you can have access to justice.

Has offering this service increased the number of people instructing you as a solicitor? Upon taking advice from a barrister through 2ndOpinionNow, they can instruct us as solicitor – we offer continuity if a client wishes. If it is not suitable, we try and connect people to local firms. While not driven by a desire to make money, it does have to be a commercial enterprise.

We hope to become the first port of call for people who have legal problems. We want to break down the myth that there’s only one way to address a legal problem. Now you can get an opinion and deduce what the problem is and whether there is a problem at all. We want to empower users with the information to make rational, legal decisions. We hope to continue adding value to what people are doing.

 

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