New Research Favours Unbundling of Family Law Services to Better Serve Consumers

Published: 22nd September 2015

New research has highlighted that legal professionals and consumers believe unbundling family law services would better serve consumers as an alternative to full-service legal representation.

The research, commissioned by the Legal Services Board and the Legal Services Consumer Panel, interviewed solicitors, judges and consumers on family, civil and immigration matters to gain a better understanding of consumer experience with unbundled legal services and to raise awareness among service providers and policymakers of the benefits of unbundling and how they can provide a better solution to improving access to justice.

Unbundling refers to the process of separating a legal service package into smaller parts, which is then shared between the service provider and the consumer.

The formal definition of unbundling is described as "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".

An example of this would be a 'pay as you go' service, where a consumer would use a solicitor as and when required, with the service provider agreeing to deal with certain stages of the case under a fixed fee, rather than an hourly rate. Another example might be a consumer preparing their own evidence and paperwork then using a barrister to represent them in the courts.

The research looks at the needs and the experiences of solicitors, consumers and judges separately, and found that:


  • Solicitors would typically provide unbundled services through a 'pay as you go' model or through fixed fees.
  • The concept of offering unbundled services was fairly recent, with most providers offering the service within the past two years in response to a higher demand for low-cost legal services following the removal of legal aid.
  • Unbundled legal services were relatively new to the market and many solicitors did very little to market their unbundled services to the public.
  • Service providers felt that unbundling could offer consumers a basic level of legal advice and support, where they were unable to access any support previously.
  • However, there were concerns from service providers that some consumers may not be able to cope with the amount of work and this would affect the outcome of their hearing as a result.
  • They also felt that some clients may not understand the legal system and the limits of what the service provider had agreed to do for them as well as the risk of them giving consumers advice on the basis of poor initial information about their circumstances.


  • Consumers felt that unbundled services were quite appealing, due to the cost. They felt that full-service representation was 'very expensive' so by taking on certain elements of the legal work themselves, consumers felt that they were able to save a considerable amount of money.
  • Consumers felt that they had more control over their case by having a more involved role in their case work. They felt like they had more responsibility and had more influence over the outcome of their case as they believe many solicitors have large workloads and wouldn't prioritise their case.
  • Whilst the majority of consumers felt that the agreements made with their solicitors were working well, a small minority felt that there was some confusion about their required input and that some service providers should have been clearer about the division of tasks and how the work should be undertaken.
  • Consumers on the whole were satisfied with the outcome of their cases and they felt that the legal service provided had a positive impact on the outcome compared to them tackling their problems alone.
  • They also felt that additional safeguarding wasn't necessary for those wanting to engage with unbundled legal services.


  • All of the judges that took part in the study said that the majority of litigants in person had problems when dealing with court or tribunal proceedings.
  • Judges felt that unbundled legal services were a starting point if full representation could not be obtained and that some basic legal assistance was beneficial.
  • Judges echoed the views of service providers that there are potential difficulties with consumers not being able to cope with the work required and the risk involved with assisting a consumer based on inadequate information.
  • Judges stressed the need for regulated service providers, as some had reported a rise in litigants in person who were assisted by unqualified advisers, which could have a negative impact on a consumers representation.

Commenting on the research, the Legal Services Consumer Panel Chair, Elisabeth Davies said, "We've known that the unbundling of legal services has been going on for some time. 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 what this report also says is that there is a group of consumers who can't use these services, and whose needs may not be being met. While legal service providers should not shy away from providing unbundled services where it is appropriate, it is crucial that the more vulnerable consumers, including those who lack the confidence or knowledge to unbundle, are taken into account in other ways. Unbundling is an important part of a wider solution."

Sir Michael Pitt, Chairman of the Legal Services Board also commented, saying, "Unbundling is one example of new ways of obtaining legal services that are beginning to change the face of the legal services market. This research provides encouraging evidence that unbundling can save people money and empower them to take greater control over their legal affairs."

"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."

"This research provides valuable insight into the benefits and risks of unbundling, but overall it should give providers confidence that, with appropriate safeguards, they can unbundle their services whilst meeting their professional obligations."

The research in full can be vied on the Legal Services Consumer Panel website here.

If you require unbundled legal services in your family matter then K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. Our experienced team of family law professionals will work with you to provide practical and cost effective legal solutions and ensure that you understand your role and responsibility in any work you undertake as part of an unbundled service agreement.

For more information or to arrange a free 45 minute consultation to discuss your circumstances with a member of our team, contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford) or email

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