Access to Legal Services and the Need for Unbundled Limited Scope Legal Help

The traditional method of providing legal  services requires that a client  pay a large retainer-often thousands of dollars- to the attorney’s firm. The firm then handles all aspects of the client’s legal matter.    The foregoing results in the billable hour.    Access to traditional legal services is simply not an option for  many folks in this climate where every dollar must do the work of two.

The unmet need for legal services for most people results in self-help. The Minnesota Judicial Branch offers a do-it-yourself section where people may fill in online forms.   The forms, while helpful, are sometimes confusing.  For example, the joint petition for a dissolution form is no less than 45 pages.   I have had folks come to me with a completed form for review with literally every option checked.  This creates a situation where the joint petition for dissolution is internally inconsistent.  Oftentimes folks will have forgotten to complete important information areas or provided incorrect information that is contradictory.   I heard someone say the other day that asking folks to do their own legal work is like taking your car to the mechanic and having the mechanic hand you the tools and say:  “There you go– now fix your transmission.”  That statement is  a little extreme, but the person making that statement has a point.

Unbundled legal services or limited scope representation does away with the large attorney retainer.  Instead, folks can pay for the help they need or want. For example, a person may need a document reviewed and explained; or, he or she may need an outline for mediation; or, a person may want an attorney prepared legal pleading.    Unbundled services creates another option for the person who cannot pay the large attorney retainer, but needs some professional guidance.

The internet has power to create an information/educational  system via websites and virtual law firm platforms that allow firms and attorneys to  offer  legal services on a pay-as-you go basis  in an unbundled limited way and help fill the access to law gap.    Few attorneys and few law firms, however,  offer unbundled services.  Like every profession, lawyers are reluctant to part with the  familiar way of doing business that is the traditional model.   State Bar Associations should help promote unbundled services via continuing education and workshops and the legal profession has to embrace change.

There are  leading lawyers out there who offer unbundled legal services via online websites or through in-house consults and that is encouraging.  Do we need to offer these types of legal services so that everyone has access to the legal system?  My answer is: Yes.

I had a sociology professor proffer this scenario back in my undergraduate days:  “Suppose you had a modest monthly grant for  providing all the legal services to everyone in your neighborhood within a ten square block area.  Each person would give what he or she could afford to give for the specific service provided, such as, a Will.   You wouldn’t be rich or even well off but would you have fun, do interesting work, and be helping folks?”       My answer is: Yes.

About Kate Willmore, Esq.

Kate Willmore, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, divorce, custody and family attorney brings over 25 years experience to every client's legal matter. *** Licensed in Minnesota and in California

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