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What are Unbundled Legal Services?

Typically in a divorce or custody dispute, parties choose to either hire lawyers for a full representation or represent themselves. This decision is usually based on whether the parties can afford lawyers. Attorney fees can present a cost barrier which cannot be overcome by many parties.

However, more and more clients are becoming interested in receiving some legal advice and limited representation from a lawyer, without having to pay huge upfront retainers and incurring hefty legal fees totaling $7,500 or more! Unbundled legal services allow clients to choose which services they want legal help with and which services they would like to handle on their own.

An example of the “menu” of services in a family law case may include the following:

Legal advice
Gathering information
Discovery
Research
Negotiation
Drafting
Court appearances

For example, you may choose to hire an attorney to draft motions and file them with the court, but you may want to do all the negotiating with your ex on your own. You decide upfront which services you will hire the attorney to perform, and which services you will perform on your own. Of course, you may change your mind as the case progresses, and then you can revise your agreement with your attorney at that time.

One benefit to unbundled legal services is that the client is in charge, not the attorney. The client, not the attorney, decides which issues should be discussed in settlement negotiations, and which are not important. In a full representation, an attorney’s job is to do what is in the client’s best interests, not necessarily what the client wants or how the clients wants it done. This can mean significantly more hours spent on areas which are of little concern to the client. This can also lead to the parties’ attorneys spending a great deal of time arguing over issues that the parties could have agreed on in a short conversation.

Think of your limited representation attorney as your divorce coach: someone who provides you assistance and advice as needed, but also empowers you with the education and skills to overcome obstacles on your own. Your legal coach can give you tips on negotiation techniques, inform you about court procedures and rules, advise you on how to fill out required court forms, or help you with countless other tasks required in a divorce, child custody, or child support case. Your attorney can be used as DIY legal guide, answering questions and providing assistance as necessary or providing representation only when court appearances are required. Or, in a post-decree case, unbundled legal services can be used to help you pick up the pieces when mistakes were previously made and prevent future problems.

Another benefit to unbundled legal services is when the other party is represented by an attorney. Even just one or two additional hours of negotiation can result in hundreds of dollars in attorney fees. If a client chooses to negotiate with opposing counsel on his or her own, the other party is still incurring legal fees and is under more pressure to settle quickly.

However, unbundled legal services also require a client to be much more involved in the case, which requires time, a willingness to learn, and active participation, including keeping track of deadlines and requirements. It’s a partnership between the lawyer and client. Family law cases are often emotionally draining and often clients are happy to pass off the emotionally difficult tasks to an attorney, rather than work in partnership on these difficult issues. With a willing client, all tasks can still be accomplished in this setting. Attorneys can assume some of the tasks, while teaching clients tips on how to approach issues so that negotiations do not become emotionally exhausting.

Many clients are ill-equipped to deal with their ex after a divorce or custody dispute in which both parties are represented by attorneys. However, most clients will need to communicate with their ex after the court proceedings have concluded. It is usually not necessary to hire an attorney to represent you in every communication you have with your ex, yet many parties do this for 10 or even 20 years after a divorce. Learning effective negotiation and communication strategies early on can save thousands of dollars over the course of a potentially decade-long legal case.

It is extremely beneficial to not only obtain legal advice during a divorce or custody battle, but also to become educated about the legal process. It is also very comforting to feel informed about the next steps and the overall picture during legal proceedings.

If you are resourceful and self-help oriented, unbundled legal services may be the perfect legal alternative to full representation for you! If you are not but would like to become more resourceful and educated and are willing to learn, the services may also be the best option for you!

UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICES

PROS CONS
Less expensive
Low or no retainers (pay-as-you-go)
Client maintains control Client must do some work
Client is actively involved Client must spend more time
Client is educated about process Client must keep track of deadlines
Powerful  negotiating tool when other side is represented by and paying for an attorney It is sometimes difficult to anticipate all issues that can come up in court
Client is working on communication with ex, which will often be necessary once the case is over Client may have to deal with some emotional issues on his/her own
Less lawyer involvement sometimes means less conflict