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Consumers are unbundling legal services to ‘speed up’ case processes

'A solicitor, they felt, would have taken more time to complete them,' LSB and LSCP research finds

17 September 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Clients of law firms in England and Wales are increasingly unbundling legal services to reduce costs and gain greater control over legal work.

That's according to the Legal Services Board (LSB) and Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), which have released details of their qualitative research into experiences and perceptions of unbundled legal services.

The research found that clients tend to self-select unbundling when they are reasonably confident of their ability to complete certain tasks alone and faster than their solicitor.

"A number of consumers reported that they were able to speed up the process of their case by taking control of certain tasks, when a solicitor, they felt, would have taken more time to complete them," the report says.

"Some consumers felt that solicitors had large workloads and would often struggle to prioritise their cases, so by taking personal ownership and having a direct involvement they were able to speed up the process."

The study defines an unbundled service as the separation of a package of legal services into parts or tasks. This is typically through the use of fixed-fee services or a 'pay as you go' model.

The research found that consumers tend to choose legal service providers based on their experience and expertise, rather than due to their willingness to offer unbundled services.

Unbundling tends to be identified as an option during the initial client interview, but the research suggests that it is rarely actively marketed to consumers. This may limit the extent to which unbundling draws into the market those completely excluded due to cost.

"Unbundling is one example of new ways of obtaining legal services that are beginning to change the face of the legal services market," said the LSB's chair, Sir Michael Pitt.

"Unbundling can save people money and empower them to take greater control over their legal affairs."

Commented Elisabeth Davies, chair of the LSCP: "It's a natural response to the cuts in legal aid funding and wider financial struggles, and is indicative of the profession adapting to meet the needs of today's consumers and helping to empower them."

Said Pitt: "Those lawyers interviewed agreed that unbundling is here to stay and is potentially as profitable as other work.

"It should give providers confidence that, with appropriate safeguards, they can unbundle their services whilst meeting their professional obligations."

No regulatory barriers to unbundling were identified, but some concerns were raised around assessing consumers' capability, ensuring clarity on agreements regarding the scope of work and giving advice based on limited information.

Legal service providers highlighted three main difficulties in providing unbundled services.

First, there was concern that the outcome of the matter could be affected by clients not being able to cope with the work they were undertaking. Some providers also raised concerns about clients' intellectual and emotional ability to take on certain aspects of the work, particularly with regard to family matters.

Second, some firms were concerned that clients may not fully understand the limits of the services they would be receiving.

Third, providers noted that there is a risk of giving advice based on "poor initial information" from clients.

Firms also raised concerns over a lack of control on matters, in contrast to consumers who said they regard it as a strength of the model.

Members of the judiciary echoed some of these potential difficulties with unbundling services.

All of the judges interviewed found that litigants in person tend to have difficulties with court or tribunal proceedings. Judges agreed that litigants in person would benefit from at least some initial legal advice and assistance, particularly for civil matters where points of law may determine whether a case is viable.

The study was commissioned from social research institute Ipsos MORI by the LSB and LSCP to explore perceptions and experiences of fee-charging services.

Thirty-five qualitative interviews were conducted with a range of consumers who used an unbundled legal service for a civil, family or immigration matter. A further 14 interviews were conducted with legal service providers in the same areas, and six interviews were conducted with members of the judiciary.




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