Law firms should do more to promote unbundled services - the separation of services into parts shared between the client and lawyer - in the face of funding cuts, the Legal Services Board and consumer watchdog urged today.
Publishing new research on unbundling, which it says can make legal services more accessible, the board said some clients have been left unaware of the option.
It said that many firms do not market this type of service to potential clients, instead identifying it as an option only during an initial interview. This means large numbers of people who are put off approaching lawyers due to concerns over costs are not benefiting from this development, the LSB said.
Consumers are increasingly choosing to unbundle services to reduce costs and exercise greater control over their cases, the research found. It also claimed that the judiciary viewed the ability to give some legal advice or assistance as beneficial if full representation could not be obtained.
Elisabeth Davies (pictured), chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: 'This research supports the view that unbundling can be used to broaden access to justice, and it’s reassuring to see this method of service provision working hand in hand with DIY law.
‘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.’
But she added that the research showed that there is a group of consumers whose needs are not being met, and said vulnerable consumers who might not be able to unbundle should be taken into account in other ways.
Sir Michael Pitt, chair of the LSB said: ‘Whilst those lawyers interviewed agreed that unbundling is here to stay and is potentially as profitable as other work, the research suggests these services are rarely actively marketed to clients. In the right circumstances unbundling benefits consumers and providers alike.
'I welcome the keen interest that the professional bodies have already shown in this emerging area.'
The Law Society published guidance on unbundling earlier this year.
The LSB said its research raised some concerns about assessing consumer capability, giving advice based on limited information and ensuring clarity on agreements about the scope of work.
But Pitt said the research should ‘give providers confidence, that, with appropriate safeguards, they can unbundle services whilst meeting their professional obligations’.