When a client hires a lawyer, it is normally from the beginning to the end of the case. Unbundled legal services can reduce task and cost.
However, in today’s world, more people are representing themselves. Often it is because folks think they do not need or cannot afford a lawyer. With unbundling, a client hires the lawyer only for tasks that are agreed to in advance. For example, a lawyer could write the divorce petition and allow the party to file on his/her own; or one could hire the lawyer to review settlement agreements; or the lawyer could help complete financial documents, including complex matters such as a qualified domestic relations order. Unbundling can also be applied to other types of litigation where litigants are pro se (self-represented).
Unbundling is a method of legal service delivery in which the lawyer breaks down the tasks associated with a client’s legal matter and provides representation only pertaining to a defined portion of the client’s legal needs. The client accepts responsibility for doing the footwork (such as filing the documents at the courthouse) for the remainder of the legal matter until reaching the desired resolution. Unbundling is also referred to as limited-scope services.
The unfortunate truth is that, in this down economy, many individuals who need legal assistance are either postponing what they can, are going into the courthouse alone without any guidance, or are going online to cut and paste together their own legal documents or turning to non-lawyer legal service companies
Frequently unbundled legal services include:
- Conducting legal research
- Document review
- Drafting contracts and agreements
- Drafting pleadings, briefs, declarations, or orders
- Making limited appearances
- Online dispute resolution
- Organizing discovery materials
- Preparing exhibits
- Providing legal guidance or opinions
New York judge outlines guidelines for limited-scope representations
A New York state Court of Claims and acting state Supreme Court justice has extolled the benefits of limited-scope legal representations.
In a guest column published in a Buffalo, N.Y., business journal Richard Dollinger noted New York has embraced such “unbundled” legal services.
Limited-scope legal representations, also called “unbundled legal services,” involve actions in which an attorney provides some, but not all, necessary services for a given action. For example, in a child custody case, an attorney may write documents to submit to the court, but the client may gather other documents, thereby reducing the cost of the legal representation.
The judge noted the increasing use of such representations in family law and bankruptcy cases. He also extolled the virtues of such arrangements as helping those with limited financial means: “Most significantly, it expands the availability of legal services and narrows the evident ‘justice gap.’”
Though limited-scope legal representations offer various benefits to both attorney and client, the judge contended several facets of such agreements require thorough examination:
- Attorneys must clearly and fully explain the limits of their representation and ensure the client understands those limitations, enabling that client to give “informed consent” required by the court system.
- Disclosure of legal representation extends beyond the client and includes other parties to an action, potential counsel of other parties and the court system. Such disclosure is necessary for multiple reasons, including proper service of documents.
- Communication among parties must be clear to ensure all parties receive relevant information in a timely manner.
- State-by-state rules regarding what services an attorney can provide, including those requiring no notice of service to the court.
Ultimately, state organizations governing attorney-court rules must decide what limited-scope representation services to allow and how those services will be provided. The goal of such arrangements remains unchanged — provide necessary legal services to those who may otherwise not be able to access them. -Rick Fahr