Best Practices for Unbundled Legal Services

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 01, 2016 5:57 AM

'Unbundling' means 'limited scope' means 'a la carte.' Somebody get a dictionary, please.

A la carte, from the French for "according to the menu," used to mean "separately priced items." As applied to legal services, it became "limited scope representation." Now the word for a la carte, or limited scope, is "unbundling."

It is not entirely new, having been offered by the American Bar Association years ago, but it is becoming more popular. That is, once you know what's on the menu and what to keep off the menu.

I'll Have Some of That

According to Stephanie Kimbro, author of an ABA book on unbundling, lawyers need to offer legal services "a la carte" to compete in the legal market.

"There is a growing market need for accessible unbundled legal services, particularly those delivered online," she says. While specific companies focus on providing unbundled services, there's no reason why small practice lawyers shouldn't be doing so, too. Clearly there's a market waiting to be tapped.

Some things are appropriate for unbundled services, such as:

  • Advising on court procedures and courtroom behavior
  • Coaching on strategy or role playing
  • Collaborative lawyering
  • Conducting legal research
  • Document review
  • Drafting contracts and agreements
  • Drafting pleadings, briefs, declarations, or orders
  • Ghostwriting
  • Making limited appearances

But Not That, Merci

Some cases, such as certain criminal matters or complex litigation, are not appropriate to unbundle. It also would be unethical to leave a client without legal representation at a critical stage in any case or to engage in practices that are in conflict with clients' interests.

Professor Gary Sullivan and Jessica Zorn, writing for the Alabama Lawyer, also question whether bankruptcy is ripe for unbundling. "Although unbundling in general litigation or simple transactional matters can create benefits that inure to both lawyer and client, unbundling and bankruptcy practice make strange bedfellows," they said.

How to Know When Unbundled Services Are Appropriate

In order to determine if unbundled services are appropriate, you should first evaluate the client. Is it a person who's capable of handling some of the work independently? If so, limited scope services should be a consideration. Next, consider whether pro se is common for the specific legal issue. If it's not, then likely the legal issues are too complex for an unbundled approach.

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