Research conducted for the Law Society by Ipsos MORI shows a clear statistical link between seeking early legal advice and resolving legal problems sooner.
“Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services,” said Law Society vice president, Christina Blacklaws. Early legal advice, defined as ‘within 3 months of the issue first occurring’, helps people to identify solutions– meaning simple issues do not needlessly spiral or end up in court, bringing unnecessary costs to the taxpayer. Professional legal advice is defined as advice from a solicitor or other professional advisor such as Citizen Advice Bureaux or trade unions.
The analysis showed that early advice has a statistically significant effect on the timing of the resolution of people’s legal issues. The research shows that, on average, 1 in 4 people who receive early professional legal advice had resolved their problem within 3-4 months. For those who did not receive early legal advice, it was not until 9 months after the issue had first occurred that 1 in 4 had resolved their issue. This analysis has found that people who did not receive early advice were 20% less likely than average to have had their issue resolved.
Where there was complexity in the case, such as in family matters, it took longer than the average to resolve their matters, but early legal advice was still found to reduce the length of time it took to reach a settlement.
Part of the obstacle to people seeking early legal advice has been the removal of most early Legal Aid advice under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). Early Legal Aid advice is no longer available for family breakdown and child custody and is only available where allegations of domestic abuse can be verified or for mediation. Because of LASPO, people who do not feel they can afford early legal advice will often not seek out a solicitor, not gain an understanding of the law pertaining to their matter and not be advised of their options for reaching a settlement. As a result, mediation referrals from solicitors have plummeted, which is putting pressure on courts and public finances, but which is also causing delays to the resolution of family matters.
Christina Blacklaws added: “The benefits of early advice are clear.” “We are calling for legal aid for early advice from a lawyer to be reinstated for housing and family cases. We are keen to work with the government to address this issue.”
The Ministry of Justice announced in October 2017 that it will complete the long-awaited review of the LASPO reforms by summer 2018. However, Justice Minister Dominic Raab has already rejected calls for early legal advice to once again be made eligible for Legal Aid funding, saying that the government is already working to address these concerns, pointing to online tools and the £100m already spent in legal aid help in 2016.
Whatever the government’s position on funding, we at Cambridge Family Law Practice strongly agree that early legal advice can help to resolve matters quickly, to minimise the escalation of issues or complications and can save money. Early legal advice can also point you towards the most cost effective and appropriate route towards resolving your issues – such as mediation or arbitration.
If you would like to discuss anything that you have read in this article, or any other family law issue, you can call us on 01223 443333 and make an appointment to speak to Simon, Adam, Tricia, Sue, or Gail.