Law for Life has published an update on the success of its Affordable Advice service it operates in conjunction with Resolution.
The service, which was developed to meet the needs of Litigants in Person (LiPs) who do not seek the advice they need from family law solicitors, is aimed people who are managing their finances on divorce or child arrangements difficulties with little or no advice.
It offers a blend of step-by-step guidance from the Advicenow website with fixed-fee, unbundled legal advice from Resolution family lawyers at the most crucial points in the process.
A key finding of Law for Life’s research is that the new service enabled users to get unbundled advice for a substantially reduced fixed fee. Specifically, most appointments are £100 +VAT for one hour requiring 30 minutes’ preparation, or £200 +VAT for longer, more complex appointments.
Given the solicitors on the panel typically charge £295 per hour, it’s said the Affordable Advice scheme represents a 70% reduction on average.
Indeed, it’s said the service reached a new market of people who could not afford to instruct a solicitor to act for them and those nervous about accessing legal advice because of the uncertainty of the final cost. 83% of people said they would not have sought advice or were unsure whether they would have sought advice without the service.
Law for Life also said the majority of service users were from low- income, working households. Almost 60% of users were women.
Additionally, more service users sought help with financial arrangements than child arrangements (64% and 28%).
With regards to satisfaction, 98% of users said they would recommend the service to others. 75% of service users considered the service to be either good or very good value. However, 75% said they could not afford to pay more.
As well as this, service users reported increased trust in legal services and 82% said the service had reduced their stress. Users reported that the guides and the solicitor appointment helped them cope better with the process and mitigated the emotions generated by their case. Some users reported substantially improved outcomes in their matter.
Recommendations and next steps
In driving forward the Affordable Advice service, Law for Life called on the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS in that public funding could increase access to the service by low-income LiPs. “Clients meeting clear income-based criteria could have some or all the fee subsidised without financially disadvantaging panel solicitors,” they suggested.
Law for Life also put forward a slurry of suggestions as to websites, letters, and other communications via which awareness of the service could be increased.
They also said further research is needed into the impact of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and coercive control on LiPs going through divorce in the family court, and the contribution that can be made by experienced panel solicitors to help.
With regards to the next steps taken by Law for Life and Resolution, it’s said the service should be scaled up to meet demand, with wider, targeted promotion and an increase in the recruitment of panel solicitors able to provide high quality legal advice. Other recommendations included:
- Additional infrastructure funding should be sought to enable the further development of the service, to provide administration and support to clients and solicitors, and to promote the service to potential service users.
- A mechanism for providing public funding assistance for low-income LiPs to access unbundled advice is required. Clients meeting clear income-based criteria would have some or all the fee subsidised without financially disadvantaging panel solicitors.
- Further research is needed into demographics including disability and ethnicity. Further longitudinal research is required into whether the service reduced conflict and improved emotional preparedness. Links between service use and mediation also need further research.
- Better support for legally binding agreements is needed. LawTech funding for a Consent Order Tool should be sought as a priority, as identified by service users.