A Court of Appeal ruling that solicitors may offer ‘unbundled’ services without being held liable for matters beyond those in their client retainer has been widely welcomed by the profession.
In Minkin v Lesley Landsberg, the court threw out a negligence claim brought by a client against family lawyer Lesley Landsberg. A judgment led by Lord Justice Jackson said that solicitors do not have a broader duty of care when offering unbundled legal advice.
Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the Law Society, said the judgment means solicitors can provide unbundled services with a greater level of confidence that they will not be liable for issues that fall outside the scope of their retainers.
She added: ‘This commonsense approach was needed given the growing demand for unbundled services in the wake of legal aid cuts. It is also, however, a reminder to solicitors of the potential risks of unbundling and the need to create clearly defined retainers.’ The Law Society has published guidance on unbundling for solicitors.
Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said there is often a ‘fear factor’ among providers that they may be held to account for actions beyond their retainer. She agreed that the ruling could give providers more confidence.
Landsberg, now with Enfield Family Law, said that if the judgment had been adverse it would have left solicitors ‘up in the air’.
‘No one would have taken on [full client liability for] just a single issue, and if they did the fees would have to be very high,’ she said.
Neil Sugarman, vice-president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: ‘This ruling could provide helpful clarity to personal injury lawyers, who will often encounter interlocking legal issues in a claim for an injury.’
But Tony Guise, a regulatory lawyer and director at Guise Solicitors, warned that solicitors should amend their terms of business to spell out their limited responsibilities when undertaking a bundled retainer.