Unbundled Legal Services
Have you ever found yourself in need of expert help for only one small part of a problem, only to discover the expert provides services in an “all or nothing” fashion? This is the common frustration experienced by pro se litigants in courtrooms all around the nation each and every day. But it does not have to be this way.
Unbundled legal services, also known as “Limited Scope Representation” is a process where you, the client can hire a lawyer to help you and pay only for the help or services you need. Unbundled legal is not for everyone but in the right case, it can save you thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.
Her is how it works. The client does the grunt work and uses a lawyer only to handle those items the client does not know how to handle, or which are beyond the client’s knowledge base. In this way, the client does not pay for an attorney’s time when the matter is one that the client can handle without an attorney, and saves those resources for the items that require an attorney’s judgement, input, and skills. In other words, limited scope representation is a way for a person to be able to afford legal help by limiting the amount of work an attorney does for them. The attorney and client agree that the attorney will only do a certain list of things for the client. The remainder of the tasks and responsibilities in a case are the sole responsibility of the client.
By way of example: Claire and Bill are getting a divorce. Claire decides to file for the divorce but when she interviews attorneys, they all want a retainer of $5000 or more which she cannot afford. Accordingly, Claire finds an attorney who agrees to draft the Original Petition for Divorce and a simple divorce decree and charge only a few hundred dollars. Now Claire must file the petition with the court, secure Bill’s agreement on the division of property and give the lawyer the list of stuff the parties have agreed to divide. The lawyer then drafts the final decree in conformity with the agreements made by Claire and Bill. Claire takes the final decree and attends the final hearing by herself.
Another example would be a couple that have found forms online and filed for the divorce but they cannot agree to the division of the retirement accounts or who gets the house. This couple (we will call them William and Kate) decide mediation would be proper, but neither wants to hire a lawyer. William hires a lawyer on a limited scope representation to review the status of the case and help William prepare for the mediation with case law and arguments why William should get the division he wants so that William can attend the mediation without a lawyer.
A more common problem arises when parties find the do-it-yourself divorce kit and try to divorce only to discover they simply do not understand the forms or the Final Decree. In this case, the parties have already agreed to divide the stuff, they just need a professional to reduce it to a formal and proper court order.
Obviously, not every case is proper for limited scope representation. Any attorney with the skills to conduct complicated discovery endeavors or to trace separate property is not going to be able to do this type of work without a lot of time, energy, and analysis. This means if Bill (from the fact scenario above) wants to claim he owned a house prior to marriage to Claire, which the couple later sold and used some but not all the money to buy a second house, any attorney with the skills to trace the funds properly is not going to do so on a limited scope agreement. There is simply too much at risk.
Limited scope agreements are better suited to those cases where the parties can and will agree to most if not all the issues. It is important to talk about all parts of the case with an attorney before agreeing to the terms of a limited scope representation. The agreement should be in writing and clearly state the duties that the client and the attorney have agreed will be performed by the attorney and state the attorney’s fee for those items.
Things to consider before hiring an attorney on a limited scope agreement.
Limited scope representation is a relatively new concept and as such, it is not widely accepted, so you may find attorneys that do not provide this kind of service. That does not mean limited scope agreements are not available, so don’t be afraid to ask an attorney about limited scope representation. And be realistic in your goals – if you want the world on a gold chain, and expect your spouse to provide it, you are not going to get your spouse to simply roll over and agree without a fight and a limited scope agreement for drafting only documents will never convince the recalcitrant spouse you are right.
Simply stated – not all cases are right for limited scope representations. There are some legal matters which are better served if the attorney represents the client through the entire process.