Lawyers respond to legal aid crisis by unbundling legal services for clients
01 May, 2013
The Law Society has prepared guidance for solicitors who are opting to unbundle their delivery of legal services in order to help clients in the wake of the Government’s drastic legal aid cuts.
‘Unbundling’ refers to the provision of isolated portions of legal advice, where a case is managed under a limited or partial retainer, rather than a traditional full retainer where a solicitor typically deals with all matters from initial instructions until the full conclusion of a case.
The ‘unbundling’ guidance is aimed primarily at solicitors who undertake face-to-face client work, such as family law solicitors, many of whom provide services for clients of modest means and are now facing greater hardship having been denied legal aid as a result of the Government cuts.
Unbundling’ is sometimes referred to as ‘a la carte’ legal services. It can operate on several different levels such as providing clients with self-help packs, providing discrete advice about a specific step or steps in a case or issue on one or more occasion, checking or drafting documents.
Increasingly, firms are introducing some level of unbundled services as a more affordable alternative to the traditional retainer. The Law Society practice note aims to advise solicitors on best practice in relation to unbundling whilst pointing out the potential risks and how to minimise them.
Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff (pictured) said: “Solicitors are restructuring the way they offer legal advice so that clients can instruct them under a limited or partial retainer and therefore pay less. Unbundling will greatly assist clients who are unable to afford to instruct a solicitor on the basis of a traditional retainer, but need advice on one or a number of crucial aspects of their case.
“The essence of unbundling in its purest form is that the case remains client led so the solicitor does not accept service of documents, does not send out correspondence in the firm’s name or otherwise communicate with third parties, does not incur additional case-related costs and does not go on the court record.”
In a family law context unbundled services can be offered for elements of the case such as initial advice on law and procedure, drafting the divorce petition, financial statements, consent orders and, advocacy.