Sometimes there are reasons why you might want help from an attorney but not have them do your whole case.
- Sometimes you want to have more control over your legal problems;
- Sometimes it saves a lot of money in a straight-forward case; and
- Sometimes, a case you started got overly complicated.
What are "Unbundled" Legal Services?
This term refers to a special relationship with an attorney. It means that you hire an “attorney advisor” for part of your case while you handle other parts of the case yourself. In other words, you are not purchasing the entire “bundle” of legal services.
An attorney advisor can help with specific work on the case. You can ask an attorney to help you with:
- legal advice,
- legal research,
- confirmation that you have a good case,
- help you with your strategy for handling the case,
- document preparation,
- document review,
- a negotiation,
- be on call during the hearing (you may be able to arrange to call last minute with any last minute questions),
- taking over the case if you find the case has gotten too complicated.
You and the attorney agree on the specific tasks to be performed for the fee (or maybe for free – called ”pro bono”).
2 Common Client Mistakes in “Unbundled” Legal Services
- Don’t take a "musical chairs" approach to finding legal help - If you have asked several attorneys who all give you the “wrong” answer, you must consider that you are getting the “right” legal answer, even if you do not like the answer. TIP - On the other hand, you may find that previous attorneys were uncomfortable with taking a "piece" of the case. Take the time to explain that you are looking for limited help and plan to do some of the work yourself. Explain this to the attorney before you recite the whole problem. It may save time.
- Be realistic – Review the section on “Is MY Case Right for Self-representation?" Court is not necessarily like what you have seen on TV or what you have been told by neighbors or friends. Representing yourself successfully requires some work. It is not for everyone.
Checklist for Self-represented Persons Working with Attorneys
- Hire someone with experience - If an attorney has little or no experience in the type of case that you have, it will be very hard for that attorney to give you advice specific to that type of case. The attorney has a duty to warn you about related issues or problems. The attorney cannot warn you about possibilities that they are not able to predict (based on past experience). Ask for a referral.
- Be careful about looking for limited representation in an emergency - Plan in advance for hiring an attorney. A rush for a "quick document review" is much riskier if the attorney will only be involved in that brief transaction. There is no chance to fix any bad advice. Consider asking the attorney to help you move the deadline. This will give the attorney adequate time for review or representation.
- Make sure you and the attorney are extremely clear about the fees and services that are covered - Remember that an "unbundled" services agreement not only limits the fees but that it also limits the services.
- For example - If the attorney agrees to review a document that does not mean that the attorney will help in a negotiation.
- Document all of the decisions – This is good advice in any type of legal work. But in “unbundled” cases, it is even more important. Make sure that both of you sign off on any changes to the initial agreement.
- Ask for the "why" - Unbundled cases are a partnership with the attorney. You need to understand the "big picture" of what is likely to happen in your case – not just the piece that you ask an attorney to review.
- Understand if the attorney says that certain tasks are too technical or difficult - Some tasks require the expertise of an attorney. More details on the “Is My Case Right for Self-representation?” Quiz.
- Make sure you know when the attorney’s involvement has ended - There should be no surprises either to you or the attorney. If your case involves a series of steps, ask the attorney to confirm the end of their involvement in a matter in writing.