SRA eyes pilot to promote greater unbundling of legal services

SRA: Looking to understand barriers to unbundling

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is planning a pilot with other legal regulators on how to extend the use of unbundling, it has emerged.

In April, the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) issued a report highlighting the “untapped potential” of unbundling and last moth held a roundtable to discuss it further.

Summary notes of the meeting said the SRA “accepted the potential to provide fuller guidance or a stronger steer” on unbundling and said the starting point should be “a better understanding” of the barriers.

The SRA “offered to facilitate a pilot on unbundled legal services in collaboration with other regulators, including service providers where feasible”.

The regulator “noted the importance of understanding consumers’ needs and expectations”, including the role of new technology to facilitate unbundling.

The SRA’s offer to lead a pilot was welcomed, with a “strong consensus” at the roundtable that the proposal to create a group for the purposes of exploring one was “a positive move forward”.

The panel said: “There was consensus about untapped potential of unbundled legal services in the market and that regulators could do more to support providers and consumers access this type of service.”

Legal Connection, a service which links lawyers who know each other so they can collaborate remotely, “provided a live demo in the use of unbundling of legal services where consumers can have a follow up chat with the provider, access the same documents and are assigned tasks with clear deadlines”.

Online legal services provider Rocket Lawyer, which targets individuals and SMEs, said it had noticed a “sharp increase” in workload during the pandemic.

The company “provided a real case study on unbundling that showed how they can make legal service more affordable, where the consumer saved between 40-50% in legal fees”.

Rocket Lawyer argued that “most areas of law can be unbundled”, while Legal Connection “raised the importance of educating lawyers to expand their services via self-service portals to reduce administrative tasks and focus on delivering the analytic part of the service”.

The consumer panel stressed the need to carry out research and test demand before expanding unbundling beyond the pilot project.

It said the development of unbundling should take account of “continually developing” court processes, which would “provide additional opportunities for unbundling because some consumers will be able to navigate legal administrative processes more easily”.

Regulators could play a role in offering support to lawyers needing to assess consumers’ capability.

The Law Society welcomed the increased use of unbundling and said its members were “likely to see unbundling as positive because it offers great commercial incentives, and it frees lawyers from administrative tasks”.

The Ministry of Justice said it would consider how it could support the unbundling of services to increase access to justice.

“Attendees agreed that there is a need for more information for consumers and providers on unbundling of services, and that ‘one size fits all’ solutions should be avoided,” the summary added.

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