This is the third article in a three part series discussing the concept of “unbundled” or “limited legal services.” The first article discussed how offering limited legal services can open up new markets for solos and small law firm practitioners. The second article discussed ethical concerns that the practitioner must aware of when offering “unbundled” legal services. This final article discusses best practices and techniques for offering “unbundled” legal services profitably and effectively.
Creating an “Unbundled” Legal Service
Creating an “unbundled legal service” or “limited legal service” can sometimes be a challenge. Think like a “project manager”, identifying a task that can be separate from the whole and priced separately at a fixed fee.
The first task is to analyze a legal project into its component tasks. A task becomes a project you can price separately. For example, a common problem in a no-fault divorce, is that one spouse can’t find the other spouse to effectuate service of process. The attorney can provide instructions on how the party serving the complaint can conduct due diligence to exhaust a service for the spouse to serve papers, and the attorney can draft the motion to the court for alternative service. Once the motion is drafted and the evidence that the spouse can’t be found is accumulated, the plaintiff can represents themselves in the court hearing. The lawyer charges for providing instructions and drafting the Motion for Alternative Service, the plaintiff does the rest of the work. By carefully analyzing a legal project into its component tasks, the lawyer can get an insight into what he or she should do, and what the client can do, and how the lawyer should price the service he or she provides.
The legal service should be a stand-alone task or process you can draw a boundary around so the service is limited.
Factors to Consider
Here are some other factors to consider when carving out a legal service to create a “limited legal service”:
- How complex is the matter? : How much litigation is involved or is it a more clear-cut case?
- Has the client worked with another attorney before on the matter before seeking limited scope assistance?
- The client’s personality: Will this client be able to handle the remainder of the case following the firm’s instructions and guidance? Does the client have the education-level to complete the task?
- Would it be in the client’s best interests in this circumstance if the representation were consistent from finish? In a complex child custody matter or a criminal defense case, the client’s best interests would most likely be served through continuous and consistent representation rather than unbundling.
- Does the client take instruction well?
- Is the client going to be comfortable communicating with the firm using the methods that the firm has set up for limited scope cases, such as a virtual law office or web conferencing rather than in-person office visits?
- Will the client consent to the limited representation?
Create Client Materials
Once you have defined a legal service as a “limited legal service,” best practices can be employed to insure a high quality client experience.
- Provide the client with checklists and detailed instructions.
- Create and provide client with a handout listing steps involved in the case.
- Keep digital records of your Interactions with the Client.
- Make sure the client knows of the risks that may be involved in their case by not choosing full-service representation and help them to do a risk/benefit analysis for this decision.
- List exactly what services will not be provided to the client and listing their responsibilities.
- Send the client an email letter or other communication confirming that the limited engagement has come to an end.
- This lets the client know this is the end of the services they paid for.
On-Line vs. Off-Line
Defining a “limited legal service” is the same whether the service is offered in the office or offered over the Internet, but the real power of offering “limited legal services” is amplified when offered over the Internet and part of the tasks to be done are automated. Automation of tasks that lend themselves to automation through digital applications enables the service to be scale and increases the return on investment for the lawyer providing the service.
An on-line service increases the reach of the law firm through the state of practice, beyond the confines of the lawyer’s physical community.
I can cite my own law firm based in Maryland, as an example. I offer family law forms bundled with legal advice for a fixed and affordable fee. We automated the legal form generation component so that when the client completes an on-line questionnaire the forms are instantly created ready for further lawyer review and amendment and revision. By using an automated document assembly system the time that I have to spend on each transaction is greatly reduced.
I have also defined which tasks my paralegal assistant can do on the file, with my supervision. Be delegating certain tasks to my paralegal, automating certain tasks and delegating tasks to the client for completion, I can do what I was trained to best which is to provide legal analysis and legal advice. With this system in place, I can generate a volume business so that that the profit margin on each legal project is sufficiently high so it translates into a reasonable hourly rate.
If I didn’t offer this service for a fixed and affordable fee, I would not be able to capture this latent market for legal services – converting prospects who have a legal problem into paying clients. Offering limited legal services is not for every law firm, but in the future, many solos and small law firms will offer limited legal services for a fixed price as a way to supplement their traditional legal services offerings. There are fees to be made by offering limited legal services to clients who are willing to do part of the work themselves. Don’t leave money on the table!
About the Author
Richard S. Granat is Co-Chair or the eLawyering Task Force, Founder and CEO of DirectLaw and Co-Director, Center for Law Practice Technology, Florida Coastal School of Law. He was also named one of 50 Legal Rebels by the American Bar Association Journal in 2009; awarded the ABA Louis M Brown Lifetime Achievement Award for Legal Access in 2010, the ABA Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering in 2013, and also named a FastCase50 Winner in 2013.