Unbundled Legal Services – A New Approach to an Old Problem
Over the last decade, more and more Manitobans have started representing themselves in their legal disputes. While this has typically been the case for small claims matters, self-representation is now approaching the 50% mark for family law matters, according to statistics collected by the Department of Justice and legal unbundled services is something that people are turning to for help.
You might choose to represent yourself for a number of reasons: you feel that you cannot afford a lawyer or you do not qualify for legal aid; you cannot find a lawyer; you have been unhappy with previous experiences; you do not trust the legal system or you believe that you can do the work yourself.
The most common reason motivating people to self-represent is that hiring a lawyer is too expensive. This is something that lawyers can help fix by offering services that the majority of people can afford. Instead of the traditional billable-hour model, where legal fees are charged on an hourly rate and the lawyer handles all aspects of the case, we are starting to offer unbundled, or limited scope, services. This is where you and your legal team make an agreement to limit the scope of the lawyer’s work on the file to specific, pre-agreed tasks. It is an option that falls between no representation and full representation.
According to the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, many self-represented clients find the process of handling their own legal matter to be overwhelming and uncertain. The unbundled model gives you access to a lawyer who can help alleviate your concerns without requiring you to provide a large retainer up front.
While the unbundled services don’t make sense for all matters or all people, it can be particularly helpful when you are representing yourself in a civil or family matter where there are many specific procedures and court rules that must be followed. The big challenge for most people isn’t the actual law, it is the procedure involved. Having a good argument or a worthwhile claim doesn’t mean much if you are not able to put it into a form the courts will accept.
The impact of family litigation can be lifelong; it can affect what kind of a relationship you will have with your children and how much money you will have to support them and yourself. Making a mistake at an early stage in the process can be difficult to fix later and fixing it can cost much more than doing the right thing in the first place.
In February of 2019, the court implemented a new model for family law matters that has resulted in changes to court forms and procedure. Under the new model, there is an emphasis on exchanging materials and information at an early stage so that families can attempt to negotiate or settle as many issues as possible without the involvement of the court. Given these recent changes, it is important to make sure that the initial documents you submit to the court and exchange with the other person are in the proper form and set out the issues you are hoping to have resolved.
Hiring a lawyer on an unbundled basis is a great way to set yourself up for success. Instead of providing a lawyer with a retainer and having them control the entire file, you can seek the lawyer’s advice or assistance on particular tasks such as preparing, filing and serving a Petition for Divorce or a Statement of Claim. You can also get legal advice on one specific issue or have a lawyer look over materials you receive from the opposing party. You and your lawyer can decide on a plan that best suits your case and your budget. Once you’ve gone to a lawyer for unbundled services, you can make an appointment to go back and get further advice as problems or questions arise, which can be helpful because that lawyer is already familiar with your file.
Hiring a lawyer may not always be necessary and sometimes may not be possible. Unbundled services are an affordable and accessible alternative to help you navigate the legal system during what can be a tough or confusing time.