March 14, 2013

Unbundling may be the key to legal aid survival, president says

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Thursday 14 March 2013 by Catherine Baksi

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Offering pay-as-you-go legal advice could enable solicitors to help clients denied legal aid after 1 April and may help firms generate more work, the Law Society president suggested today.

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff told the Society’s legal aid conference: ‘The reality is that for many clients who are losing legal aid, buying a full casework service is unaffordable.’

Rather, firms should explore opportunities for ‘unbundling’ work – offering a pay-as-you-go service to clients who get advice on parts of a case rather than instructing a solicitor on a traditional retainer.

‘This means agreeing with the client which parts of the work they will undertake themselves, while you take on only the parts that add the most value for the client,’ she said.

Scott-Moncrieff said that the route opens up ‘a number of regulatory and insurance challenges’, but she said ‘they are not insurmountable’ and guidance had been sought from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

In advance of 1 April, she said Chancery Lane will publish a practice note on unbundling, focusing particularly on family cases, providing model client care letters.

Scott-Moncrieff accepted that this model would not assist the poorest clients, but said it would help those who would have made contributions towards their legal aid.

In addition, she said, unbundling may generate work from clients who would not have been eligible for legal aid and who would have been put off going to law altogether.

Solicitor and chief executive of legal software provider Epoq Richard Cohen told delegates that ‘unbundling’ would be necessary for firms to compete with new big brands entering the market. ‘The legal profession is the last bastion against self-service, but it will be forced to accept it, due to cost and competition,’ he said.

Cohen said the process offered benefits for firms, expanding their market and generating more work, and for clients – making legal advice more affordable, less intimidating and giving them greater control.

He added: ‘There is nothing in the Code of Conduct that would limit engagement, but you have to be clear with the client what you will do and what they will do.’