The Law Society has extended its guidance on unbundling of services to a wider range of civil claims in the wake of legal aid cuts.
A revised practice note suggests that practice areas including small personal injury claims, housing law, immigration and consumer claims may be appropriate for unbundling. The Society also suggests that it may not be appropriate where alternative sources of funding, such as legal aid or a conditional fee agreement, are in place.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen (pictured) said: ‘A huge breadth of civil cases such as housing and welfare are no longer eligible for legal aid except in very limited circumstances. The number of clients who would previously have been eligible for legal aid prior to the April 2013 civil scope cuts is increasing.
‘These people are unlikely to be able to afford to instruct a solicitor privately on the basis of a traditional full service retainer.
‘Our “unbundling” guidance has been updated to include a wider range of civil law issues. This will help solicitors serve clients who are facing greater hardship having been denied legal aid as a result of the government cuts.’
The note says: ‘Clients of modest means, including a number of those who would previously have been eligible for legal aid prior to the April 2013 civil scope cuts, are unlikely to be able to afford to instruct a solicitor privately on the basis of a traditional full service retainer.
‘They may, however, wish to instruct a solicitor under a limited retainer for a particular aspect or aspects of their case.’
But the Society warns practitioners that unbundling more services carries specific risks, including allegations of professional negligence arising from insufficient knowledge of the client’s situation and failing to explain to the client the extent and limitations of what is being offered.
There may also be an issue with the terms of professional indemnity insurance.
The note adds: ‘If you are concerned that it is not appropriate to limit the retainer in the circumstances or that your client does not understand the consequences of the limitations, then you should not offer an unbundled service.’
The note has further advice on fees, which should be ‘simple, transparent and affordable’ to poorer clients; service; unbundled representation at court and terminology – including a specimen client care letter and letter to a judge.