One of the major themes here at The Untethered Lawyer is the notion of unbundled legal services, and how a virtual law firm can use this as a business model while delivering excellent service to clients. It’s a concept I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade or so, and the time is finally right for unbundled legal services to take a place at the table.
But to many, unbundled legal services is a foreign concept. So in this article I will try my best to explain unbundled legal services if for no other reason than to lay the groundwork for some of our discussions on the topic.
What Are Unbundled Legal Services?
Unbundled legal services has also been called “discrete task representation.” The lawyer provides legal services to a client, but those services are less than the full range of what would be provided in a typical lawyer-client relationship.
For example, a client needs me to write a letter to a creditor demanding that they stop contacting the client at work. I agree to do so for a fixed fee, but don’t undertake to represent the client in any lawsuit for harassment that may arise later on.
Or perhaps a consumer who lives far away needs to file for bankruptcy. I’m unable to travel to the meeting of creditors and confirmation hearing without charging a fee that is out of the client’s financial ability, but the client wants my help nonetheless. I may prepare the petition, schedules, Statement of Financial Affairs and Plan … but not file the case on behalf of the client or otherwise represent the client in court.
See? It’s as if there is a box called “full representation.” The client and I decide what to take out of the box, and what to keep in the box. Whatever remains in the box is the scope of my representation.
How Do Unbundled Legal Services Differ From Self-Help And Pure Pro Se Representation?
When you’ve got someone who buys a book or gets someone to fill out some forms … that’s a pure pro se party. They’re working without a net, do or die. All the knowledge they have is a product of their own information-gathering, and there’s been no licensed attorney helping them whatsoever.
In other words, they know just enough to be dangerous. Maybe they can get through the system in one piece, maybe not. Lawyering ain’t rocket science, but neither is rocket science … to the rocket scientists, that is.
With unbundled legal services, the person goes to a lawyer. The lawyer reviews the situation, explains the options to the non-lawyer, and together they make a decision on what the lawyer will handle and what the consumer will handle on their own. The lawyer does his or her thing (usually, gathering information, drafting documents, giving guidance on the remainder of the process) and the consumer picks up the ball and runs with it.
In other words, they work together to figure out who’s going to do what. The lawyer prepares the consumer for his or her part of the job, and the consumer does the job with that guidance as a foundation for action.
It’s like a relay race, where each person does his or her part in getting to the finish line.
Do you unbundle? Drop me a comment – I’d love to hear from you!