Supporting Families Through Change: Unbundled Legal Services Part 4

In part 3 of this series on unbundled legal services surveys, we summarized the responses of family lawyers about what they believe needs to change in order to encourage them to provide more unbundled legal services for families. In this post we explore the survey responses about unbundling from members of the public who have encountered legal issues related to their separation and divorce. The formal summary of survey results can be found here.

Demographics

46 people responded in total but not all respondents answered all questions.  60% of the respondents were women and 40% were men.  Ages ranged from 21 – 80 with an average age of approximately 47.  Thanks to communications support from Dr. Julie Macfarlane (NSRLP) and J.P. Boyd (CRILF), we received responses from people in four provinces and one territory:  BC: 72%; AB: 11%; ON: 11%; SK: 3%; NT: 3%.  86% reported living in a city.

Accessibility and Use of Unbundled Legal Services

Only 38% (17) had used unbundled legal services for their family matter.  The survey responses as a whole confirmed that unbundled services were clearly valued by those who used them.  However, many did not know these kinds of services existed (and would have used them if they did) and most found it extremely difficult to find lawyers who offered these services.

Of those who did not use unbundled services, 73% said that they did not know these services existed.  31% said that they could not find an unbundled lawyer. 41% of those who did use unbundled services reported that it was somewhat or very difficult to find an unbundled lawyer to help them.

In the first post in this series we reported that 76% of lawyers responding to the survey said they provided unbundled legal services but only 26% said they advertised these services.  If 76% of family lawyers are providing these services (and the responses to the survey was too small to extrapolate to the BC bar as a whole) then why do people have such a hard time finding them?  Based on our more in depth interviews with family lawyers we suspect that most lawyers offer unbundled services on a one-off or irregular basis and consider these services to be an “add-on” rather than an embedded part of their practice.  We have spoken to lawyers who have developed successful business models that center on or incorporate unbundled services (both in Canada and in the U.S.).  It may be that an additional “barrier” to lawyers is the lack of a robust and lucrative business model to support this different mode of service delivery (and pricing).  The project is exploring this topic and hopes to have some helpful guidance and case studies to offer.

Unbundled services to support mediation

Of those respondents who had used unbundled legal services (17), 11 reported that they had used mediation to resolve their family issues.  Only two respondents provided information about the type of unbundled services they received to support their use of mediation:  legal advice during mediation, formal independent legal advice on an agreement or MOU and preparing a binding agreement.

This fits with the responses of the lawyers who all said they provided unbundled services to support mediation and participated in a wide variety of different kinds of unbundled services to support families using mediation.  The significant use of mediation in this group is notable.  Based on the results of the mediator survey, we suspect it may be because mediators are encouraging parties to seek legal advice (and unbundled services in particular).  The mediation community sees this as a critical need and they report struggling to find adequate resources to assist parties who need legal advice.  A future post will discuss survey responses from BC family mediators.

Closing Comments

The next post in this series will explore the experience of family members with financial arrangements for unbundled services, their satisfaction with those services and their suggestions for change.

Information about the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services project can be found here.  Summaries of the responses to all three surveys are posted on that page.

Mediate BC is enormously grateful to the lawyers, mediators and members of the public who participated in these surveys – thank you!  The information was really helpful.  Stay tuned for more information.

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