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Keywords: Legal aid - mode of access - family problems - telephone advice - civil justice
Over the last two decades, the public sector has embraced new modes of service delivery, moving away from traditional face-to-face provision towards internet and telephone-based advice and information. While telephone provision now plays an increasingly significant role in overall provision of legal advice, there has been little empirical research comparing telephone to face-to-face services. Using administrative data from the Legal Services Commission (LSC) on legal aid services for family law problems, and focussing on those problem types that remain in scope after the implementation in April 2013 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), this paper explores the similarities and differences between the two channels. We examine which client groups and matter types tend towards particular channels of advice, the relationship between mode of advice and the outcome of cases for clients, and the relationship between mode of advice and advice time. We find that there are some differences in mode of advice used among clients with particular demographic characteristics. Our findings indicate that whilst cases concluded over the telephone take less time than those conducted face-to-face, this disparity becomes less pronounced once we control for demographics, matter type and (particularly) stage reached. Importantly, the results demonstrate a clear difference between the outcomes achieved based on mode of advice. Despite some methodological limitations, the results suggest a clear difference in the type of service delivered by the two modes which has important implications for the future development of telephone based services in legal services.
The full version of this article appears in issue 3 of 2013 of Child and Family Law Quarterly.