Evaluation of the Affordable Advice Service pilot
The Affordable Advice Service offers a unique blend of step-by-step guidance from Advicenow with fixed fee, unbundled legal advice from expert solicitors at the most crucial points in the process. We developed the service in partnership with Resolution, the membership organisation for family lawyers, to meet the needs of Litigants in Person and potential Litigants in Person who don’t seek the advice they need because of fear and confusion about prices, the high cost of advice, and a lack of confidence about how to do it. We also wanted to widen access to low-cost unbundled family law advice all over England and Wales.
“It helped me not feel like I was excluded from the judicial system”
The service is focused on helping parents dealing with child arrangement issues, in and out of the court, and divorcing couples dividing their money and property, either by agreement or via court. Advice is offered for a low-cost, fixed fee. The client completes a questionnaire in advance, and takes their own notes in the appointment, so that the solicitor’s time is used as efficiently as possible. The process is made easy and what will be covered in the appointment is spelled out so that clients can be confident about what help they will receive.
We launched the service in late February 2020 and concluded the pilot stage in July 2021. This was a longer period than originally envisaged as the Covid-19 epidemic affected promotion and take up.
“I think this is an excellent service for those of us on limited means who would struggle to pay to be represented throughout the divorce process. Being able to seek advice for specific parts of the process is so helpful.”
We are delighted that, despite limited funding for promotion and the significant challenges presented by Covid-19, the service has been successful in attracting Litigants in Person (LiPs). The service is averaging 33 contacts per month and growing, with a total of 356 contacts and at least 110 appointments held over the pilot period.
Fixed-fee pricing has achieved on average a 70% reduction to service users. Service users express high levels of satisfaction with the service. The service appears to meet the needs of a key group of under-served LiPs who need expert advice but are unable to afford a full family solicitor service.
The evaluation of the service suggests that the user group who benefited the most was relatively digitally able. They demonstrated that they grasped the parameters of the service and had a degree of emotional preparedness and attendant attitudinal characteristics to derive the full benefit of the service. Invariably we know little about those people who struggle to access or navigate the service at this pilot stage.
The approach of dovetailing public legal information with unbundled advice appears to enhance levels of legal capability including knowledge of rights and obligations, and the processes involved, and grows confidence and trust. This in turn enables panel lawyers to maximise benefit for the LiP and reduce risk.
““I think nearly all of them left the meeting, having confidence in what they need to do next. But it wasn't necessarily what they thought they were supposed to do at the beginning of the meeting."
Solicitor on panel
The pilot offers some evidence that reduced stress was an outcome of the service, with high levels of self-reported confidence and stress reduction from LiPs. This is corroborated by solicitors interviewed in the evaluation.
Evaluation of the pilot also indicates that there is potential for the service to reduce conflict when the LiP reaches the service at earlier stages, by empowering LiPs to get a better grasp of the parameters of family law proceedings. However, there remain other groups who may not be able to access the service effectively due to emotional, financial or digital barriers. This suggests adaptations will be needed to enhance routes to pro bono assistance, targeting via trusted intermediaries, and through adjacent services e.g. Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
Lawyers on the panel indicate that the service augments their existing services well and has the potential to be an effective use of junior lawyer’s time. All were keen to stay on the panel. However, careful management of promotion and expansion of the service is needed to ensure lawyers do not become over-burdened by this element of their services if their support is to continue.
Read the full evaluation.
Published September 2021