As you know the government has removed whole areas of law from the scope of Legal Aid.
This means that clients requiring advice in relation to most Family Disputes, Welfare Rights and Employment will either have to represent themselves or find the money to pay for legal assistance.
At the same time a number of businesses are realising that a lot of the work traditionally done by their lawyers does not actually require legal expertise. The gathering of information and documents is something that they can do themselves. This is all leading to a new concept known as ‘unbundling’ or ‘decomposing’ of legal services.
The leading advocate is Richard Susskind in his recent book – Tomorrow’s Lawyers (Oxford Press 2013). He uses a litigation claim as an example and breaks it down into 9 tasks – Document Review, Legal Research, Project Management, Litigation Support, Disclosure of Documents, Strategy, Tactics, Negotiation and Advocacy. He asks which of these are lawyers ‘uniquely’, qualified to undertake. He suggests that there are just 2 – strategy and tactics.
The other tasks can be done by the clients themselves thus avoiding the expense of legal fees. Interestingly Legal Research is not a task uniquely for lawyers!
This concept is now being suggested as a way to help those affected by the Legal Aid cuts, especially in family cases. People will look to lawyers for assistance, at certain key stages. So we will move away from the traditional retainer whereby a solicitor handles the case from start to finish. Interestingly, the Law Society has just published guidance to firms who are considering this in Family Cases –
Earlier this year the website Legal Futures reported on similar moves in the USA with the American Bar Association (ABA) saying – ‘As well as improving access to justice for a rising number of self-represented litigants, it said unbundling services into more affordable chunks would help lawyers expand their client base.’
So is this the way forwards? Will we soon see a radical change in the way lawyers work? Are we seeing the day when insurers will contest claimants’ legal costs saying that they could have done certain tasks themselves? On the other hand the extension of fixed fees and inevitable reduction in costs will make this idea attractive to all.
Any measures which increase access to justice are to be welcomed. I can certainly see this being of great help to litigants who are forced, for various reasons, to bring or defend actions in person. I can also see it being well received by the courts as parties to a case will have professional assistance along the way. I think there are some dangers. If the lawyer is dipping in and out of a case at key stages then something might be missed. Cases do not always follow a predictable path and I can foresee arguments between solicitors and clients as to what exactly has been agreed. These problems can be addressed but I think that there will need to be careful preparation of retained agreements. This is presumably why the Law Society has published its guidelines.
The world is changing by the day! This is certainly something that we all need to consider if we are not to be left behind.