‘Unbundling’ family law

Or Pay as You Go Legal Services

Is self litigation (or representing yourself in court) the best way of getting a divorce and should you have expert family legal help?

In recent years the term ‘unbundling’ has made its way into family law and has come around since Legal Aid became limited and where litigants cannot always afford full representation in Court proceedings.

What is ‘unbundling’?

Unbundling is, in effect, a pay-as-you-go service whereby you do not use your solicitors for all aspects of the proceedings but just certain parts of it. According to the Law Society, the term ‘unbundling’ describes the “provision of discrete acts of legal assistance under a limited retainer, rather than a traditional full retainer where a solicitor typically deals with all matters anticipated from initial instructions until the case is concluded.” This may include representing yourself in court but seeking advice along the way; or seeking assistance with the drafting of a statement; or only instructing your solicitor to attend court hearings but dealing with all other aspects of the case yourself.

When instructing a solicitor on this basis it is important to know the implications of this both for you and your solicitor. When using a solicitor on this basis the solicitor does not usually go on the Court record, which means that you are responsible for the filing of all paperwork, possibly the preparation of a court bundle and service of documents on the other party or parties. It is important to agree with your solicitor what exactly you wish to instruct them to do so that you are both clear as to who is responsible for what and what costs you are going to incur.

Recent case law (Minkin v Landsberg [2015] EWCA Civ 1152) has decided that a solicitor was not negligent for only giving advice limited to that of the retainer (i.e. the limited issue that the advice was sought on) and not giving broader advice. This demonstrates the risks associated with a limited ‘unbundling’ service as your solicitor is only obliged to advise you on the questions asked by you rather than the case as a whole.

The benefits of a pay-as-you-go service is that it at least allows you to have some input from a solicitor even if you are not able to afford to pay for complete representation.

To help the Law Society has issued a practice note to assist when pay-as-you-go legal services are sought. Our Family Team will consider this type of arrangement depending on the complexity and on a case by case basis.

For more information and advice on all areas of Family Law, please contact Louise Ballantyne or the Family Team on 01733 882800.

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.