The UK’s legal market place can be complex to navigate. Different advisers offer different services at different prices.
While greater choice can be a good thing, it can also make it difficult for buyers of legal services to know what kind of help they need, to compare advisers and prices and to decide who to choose.
You may even be considering doing some, or all, of the legal work yourself.
In this section, we explain how the legal market is structured to help you understand what your options are to get help with a legal issue, and whether the self-help route is possible in your circumstances.
Within the legal system, there are many different types of lawyers. A legal adviser’s qualifications and role will determine what kind of services they can and cannot provide.
Some legal activities can only be performed by solicitors, and not all legal advisers work at law firms. Some operate as part of another kind of professional practice, such as an accountancy or employment businesses, describing themselves using terms such as ‘specialists’ rather than ‘lawyers’.
Among the questions you should ask before you start working with a legal adviser is what their qualifications are and whether they are regulated.
Not all legal providers are or have to be regulated, though if you are advised by a regulated firm, you will generally be afforded more protection if something goes wrong.
Self-help law (‘doing it yourself’)
In some areas of law, there may also be an option to do the work yourself, or part of it, on an ‘unbundled‘ basis.
The abundance of information online is giving people and businesses the knowledge and confidence to consider handling some legal issues themselves, whether to keep costs down or through a genuine desire to lead on resolving an issue yourself.
Areas such as will writing, divorce and business terms and conditions in particular are seeing an increase in services designed to help self-helpers.
If you are considering handling a legal issue yourself, there will inevitably be risks to consider, well as the potential gains.
While DIY may come without the cost of a legal adviser, and may potentially be quicker and less hassle than having to deal with an adviser, what happens if something goes wrong? Will you have to pay out more to fix a different, or even bigger, issue? You may also find yourself under greater time pressure if you have tried and failed to sort an issue yourself. The general rule is that the more complex your problem, the more challenging it will be to resolve.
Unbundling offers a half-way approach for some legal services, where a legal adviser helps with only part of the entire piece of work. For example, they may check a visa application form you have completed or a will you have drafted.
Some areas lend themselves more readily to DIY help:
- When someone owes you money The Government’s Money Claim Online system is designed for individuals to bring certain types of claim against someone, without needing a legal adviser.
- Writing a will There are a number of providers offering DIY wills. You would usually buy a template and complete with your own information. The document then has to be witnessed correctly for it to be valid. DIY wills typically suit more straightforward cases rather than those involving more complicated assets and arrangements.
- Register lasting power of attorney You can complete and file your lasting power of attorney form via the Government’s website.
- DIY divorce It may be possible to take on some of the legal work yourself if your case is relatively simple, for example, if you have already agreed terms with your former partner. Individuals can also choose to act as litigants in person and represent themselves in court.
- Using barristers direct Individuals and businesses can instruct a barrister directly without the need to go through a solicitor or intermediary. This makes using a ‘Direct Public Access’ barrister more affordable than going through a solicitor’s firm. If your case is not suitable for direct access, the barrister is under a duty to advise you of this after reviewing your case.
Reserved & non-reserved legal services
There are six legal services activities that only authorised individuals can do. These are called ‘reserved legal activities’.
Reserved legal activities
Lawyers carrying out these activities must be regulated by their approved industry body. It is an offence for a person to perform a reserved legal activity where they are not entitled to do so.
The six reserved legal activities are:
- Exercise of the right of audience Having the right to appear before and to address a court, and to act as an advocate by calling and examining witnesses.
- Conduct litigation Carrying out all of the functions relating to commencing, prosecuting and defending claims proceedings.
- Reserved instrument activities Dealing with the transfer of land or property.
- Probate activities Preparing any probate papers on which to found or oppose a grant of probate or grant of letters of administration in relation to any proceedings in England and Wales.
- Notarial activities Activities which were previously carried on by virtue of enrolment as a notary in accordance with the Public Notaries Act 1801.
- Administration of oaths Exercising the powers conferred on a commissioner for oaths, e.g. taking oaths and swearing affidavits.
In practice, a number of exemptions apply to each reserved activity. This applies only in certain circumstances, where individuals can carry out a reserved legal activity without needing to be authorised. For example, a right of audience has been granted by a specific court in relation to specific proceedings e.g. to a paid or unpaid McKenzie Friend.
Unreserved legal services activity
Not all legal services activity is regulated.
Unreserved legal activities include activity that does not fall within the six reserved activities (as above) and legal advice, representation or assistance relating to legal dispute resolution.
Non-reserved activities include, among others, will writing, most employment law and providing legal advice.
Non-regulated services can be provided by unregulated individuals, such as ‘non-solicitors’, who do not need to be authorised or have particular training or qualifications to carry out ‘unreserved’ activities.
Legal advisers can only offer non-reserved services when supervised by and working in a firm regulated by a legal regulator.
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