If you’re a small or solo firm considering offering unbundled legal services as part of your practice, you may be wondering why you should offer them. They’re important for several reasons—especially for law firms who want to scale. By adding limited scope services to your practice, you attract a new market of clients who might not otherwise hire a lawyer. This applies to both business clients and individuals, including low and moderate-income households. Along with improving access to legal services, you will grow your business, generate new forms of revenue and provide better service to clients who go on to engage you for full-scope representation.
So, how do you begin? In this guide, we cover everything you need to know before offering unbundled services, from satisfying ethical obligations as a limited scope attorney to your first concrete steps. We’ll also offer some examples for small firms and solos in the context of both litigation and transactional practices.
What are unbundled legal services?
“Unbundled” legal services refer to limited scope representation. They allow businesses and individuals to hire an attorney for specific narrow tasks within a case lifecycle. The limited scope attorney and the client agree to define the attorney’s involvement. This saves the client money and allows the lawyer and the client to have clarity and certainty on the scope of the legal assistance. Unbundled legal services can vary greatly, depending upon the agreed-upon task(s), in both litigation and transactional matters.
Why you should offer unbundled legal services
There are three main reasons why you should offer unbundled legal services as part of your practice.
1. Clients can benefit from increased access to justice
Organizations such as the Legal Services Corporation refer to it as the “justice gap”: The shortfall between the civil legal needs of low-income individuals and the availability of legal help. As a function of factors including income, race and geographic location, many people receive only limited, if any, help with their civil legal problems. As Shannon Salter of the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) notes, there is simply a lack of resources. This is where unbundled legal services, along with technology, can play an important role. The limited scope attorney can provide narrow assistance, allowing more attorneys to help more people achieve access to justice. Providing limited scope representation facilitates one of the highest callings of the profession.
2. Clients can benefit from more affordable legal services
Attorneys’ fees are expensive to many small businesses and individuals. What if there were a way to augment our practices by making limited parts of our services available—therefore more affordable to—businesses and individuals who otherwise might not hire a lawyer? This is where unbundled services come in. For businesses and individuals that need only limited representation, a limited scope attorney can make legal solutions affordable. This segmented legal help has several benefits, as we’ll explore in the next section.
3. Serve more clients and grow your business
For example, by unbundling legal services, a small firm or solo still provides full-service representation for clients that request it. But the firm or solo can also capture businesses and individuals who only seek—or can only afford—unbundled legal help. By offering services to both markets, limited scope attorneys can serve more clients, provide better service, and attract new types of clients. All of this is possible because unbundled legal services are more affordable, and can help grow and scale your business, whether your practice is litigation or transactional.
As another example, by providing unbundled services, small firms and solos can grow their business by offering alternative fee structures for clients. While full-service matters might still be billed hourly, unbundled legal help can have flat-fee pricing. This allows you to capture an additional market of potential clients who prefer price certainty.
How to offer unbundled legal services
There are six basic steps in offering unbundled services.
1. Understand your ethical obligations
Research your ethical requirements, as rules concerning unbundled services vary by jurisdiction. The ABA’s most recent Formal Opinion on unbundled legal services, ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 472 (2015), notes that lawyers are authorized to provide limited scope representation under Model Rule 1.2(c). It recommends that lawyers providing unbundled services memorialize the scope of the representation in a writing provided to the client. As ABA Opinion 472 further notes, Model Rule 1.2(c) allows a lawyer to limit the scope of representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and if the client gives informed consent.
Because each jurisdiction’s rules and case law differ regarding unbundled legal services, and because its contours are always evolving, small firms and solos should continuously check the ethics rules and decisional law in their jurisdiction before providing unbundled legal help. When in doubt, limited scope attorneys should seek and obtain state bar or court permission, if needed.
2. Determine what unbundled services you will offer
The best way to decide what unbundled services to offer your clients is to identify gaps in the market and groups who lack access to justice. Depending on your practice, you may not be able to offer all of your existing services a la carte. For example, some legal services related to complex criminal matters and complex family law cases, especially those involving custody issues or highly disputed matters, may not be compatible with offering unbundled legal help.
Determining what unbundled services the limited scope attorney will offer is a process. Start with what areas that are process-oriented, routine, and rules-based and increase your offerings from there. You’ll learn what additional services as you analyze what areas are high-volume for your practice.
3. Prepare a limited scope representation agreement
A limited scope attorney should draft a clear limited scope representation agreement that expressly defines what is and isn’t included in the unbundled legal services. Further, as discussed in the ABA Formal Opinion above, informed consent is required under the Model Rules (and may also be required in your jurisdiction). As such, make sure that your client understands the limits of the unbundled legal services agreement, including the risks, and then memorialize this in a signed writing.
4. Determine your pricing for unbundled legal services
Compare the offerings of other lawyers in your geographical market and practice area, which will likely establish a general price range for unbundled legal services. Since a limited scope attorney offers unbundled legal help for specific legal tasks, rather than an entire transaction or case, it will help to provide specific examples of your services at specific flat fee prices whenever possible. Some attorneys choose to extrapolate the typical hourly rate out to a flat fee to provide transparency. The more concrete the package of services you’re providing and the more price certainty you can give you consumers, the more businesses and individuals will be interested in seeking your unbundled legal help.
5. Have a thorough client intake process
A thorough client intake process is essential because providing unbundled services means you will also have a higher volume of clients. There are two main considerations. First, choose reputable client intake software that maintains and strengthens client relationships and trust. Second, ask the right questions. You want to build your client intake to ask the right gateway questions to qualify clients and prevent repeat data entry. Limited scope attorneys may want to consider technology that relates to the ABA’s first-ever strategic partnership with a legal technology company, Clio. Clio’s software for attorneys includes a client intake system that attracts new clients and guides them through your intake process.
6. Make sure your client understands what you’ll be responsible for
This is distinct from a well-defined limited scope of representation agreement, which is memorialized with the client at the start of the limited representation. Here, on an ongoing basis, the limited scope attorney should continue to ensure both verbally and in writing that the client understands which unbundled legal services you are and aren’t responsible for. This includes ensuring that the client knows what they are responsible for. As the matter continues, remind your client what was initially agreed upon. Where appropriate, raise the possibility of full-service representation if necessary.
Examples of unbundled legal services
Ever-increasing technology advances in document assembly and automation show that there are dozens of ways to provide unbundled legal help to new and existing clients. Some examples for a limited scope attorney include: Evaluating a case or transaction, providing limited litigation or transactional guidance, suggesting court documents or transactional documents to be prepared, drafting the initial documents for litigation or transactional matters (or enabling your client to draft them with your document automation applications), advising for negotiations, evaluating settlements, and advising on deal closings. For example, in the divorce context, an attorney may help a client draft the initial divorce filing, but then allow the client to take over on further case proceedings.
By offering unbundled legal services, small firms, and solos can both grow their practices and provide access to justice for those who otherwise cannot afford representation. So long as limited scope attorneys follow their jurisdiction’s ethical requirements when providing unbundled legal help, there are many benefits to expanding to include limited scope representation. This is true for both small firms and solos, and both litigation and transactional practices. Before getting started, be sure to properly define your tiers of service and think carefully about the appropriate pricing for your offerings. Once you begin engaging with the client, ensure that your arrangement is clear—both in writing and through verbal reinforcement. That way, you’ll ensure an excellent client-centered experience.
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