Unbundling your family law service – a Law Society warning

Though some say that lawyers have been stuck in the 19th century for far too long, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the current year brings unprecedented level of change for beleaguered family lawyers.

Since April, legal aid [or public funding as it is more properly known ] has been removed from the vast majority of divorce and other private family law cases. Although many law firms who had previously relied on legal aid for a large amount of their family work seem to be digging their heads in the sand and waiting to see what happens, there is growing evidence that some of the more astute firms are already downsizing their own family law teams – or indeed are losing the ability to offer advice on family law entirely as their experienced family lawyers jump ship or try to set up their own specialist family law firm.

Although, for example, up until around 8 years ago we had the largest team of legal aid family lawyers in Salisbury by some measure, we gave all legal aid family work up  – because we realised that much of it was already unprofitable and that the rates of pay were simply going to get worse.

One of the more interesting ideas floating amongst the more innovative minds in the legal profession is that legal advice on family law work could gradually become “unbundled?”. What does this mean? Simply that rather than provide advice on all aspects of say divorce, family lawyers could unbundle their services – allowing clients to pick and choose which bits of the legal support, advice and representation they want and which elements of their case they are prepared to handle themselves. So in divorce cases, for example, a husband might handle his own divorce – just coming to his divorce solicitor for help in drafting the divorce petition, preparing the lengthy Form E financial disclosure statement, representing him at any court hearing, and drafting any necessary consent order – every else could be handled by the client himself. It sounds great in theory for both clients and indeed for their family lawyers.

However, the Law Society has taken the unusual step of issuing a practice note (i.e. a strong professional regulation to solicitors) which family lawyers should take particular care when unbundling their services. In particular the practice note warns of the “specific risks” that unbundling carries with it for lawyers – and in particular;

o the risk of professional negligence allegations – which could arise if the lawyer has an insufficient understanding of the client’s position

o risks of professional misconduct allegations –in respect not only their own clients, but with regard to their duties both to the court and to third parties

o that unless the initial letter of instruction is precise, offering an unbundled service might mean that the lawyer created a full retainer, without meaning to do so

o the risk of failing to comply with the terms of their own professional indemnity insurance cover

o the increased possibility of complaints from clients who simply don’t understand the limit of the support they receive from their solicitors in any unbundling family law package.

If fact the Law Society go as far as to recommend that any solicitor offering such services, should notify their professional indemnity insurers of their plan to offer such unbundled services.

For quality family law advice, call our divorce solicitors on 01722 422300

We strongly advise that you instruct a specialist divorce solicitor who will be able to get a grip of your case from day one and see it through to the finish. Although this may seem more expensive, you could save yourself money by securing a fairer deal from your financial settlement. Our divorce experts would be happy to help you with your divorce case, so:

  • Just call us on the following numbers for FREE specialist advice

SALISBURY [01722] 422300

AMESBURY [01980] 622992

ANDOVER [01264] 364433              

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