Lawyers should offer ‘unbundled’ legal services to the public in order to improve access to the law – and also to compete with online document assembly services like Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom, the American Bar Association (ABA) has said.
As well as improving access to justice for a rising number of self-represented litigants, it said unbundling services into more affordable chunks would help lawyers expand their client base.
Last week the association’s policy-making House of Delegates adopted a resolution on encouraging “limited scope representation”. Underlying the resolution, its sponsors said, was the “need for self-help alternatives to facilitate access to competent legal services” that has arisen from “a growing trend of self-representation”.
However, while limited scope representation is a “cost-effective solution” to the problem, research has shown that the people who would benefit from it most are not aware of the option, and neither do practitioners have clear guidance on how to go about it.
In a detailed overview to their report, the sponsors said: “Research clearly indicates that a growing number of people are foregoing the assistance of lawyers when confronted with a civil legal issue and are addressing their matters through self-representation. In many instances, people are turning to self-help alternatives, such as document preparation services available over the Internet.”
It said the advantage of unbundling to lawyers in private practice is that they can “charge their full rate, expand their client base because the cost per case is more affordable, and effectively compete with document preparation services”.
The likes of online document businesses LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer are both well-known US brands, with Rocket Lawyer now established in the UK, with LegalZoom to follow after striking a deal with QualitySolicitors.
Without naming either, the report recorded the scale of the competition. “Online legal service providers are sometimes backed with millions of dollars in venture capital. One company advertises that over 15 million individuals and businesses have used their services. Another touts that it has over two million satisfied customers.”
Summarising the resolution, its sponsors said it would “encourage practitioners to consider limiting the scope of their representation, including the unbundling of legal services, when appropriate, as a means of increasing access to legal services.”
Unbundling was defined as the lawyer and client agreeing that the lawyer will provide some, but not all, of the work involved in traditional full service representation. “Simply put, the lawyers provide only the agreed upon tasks, rather than the whole ‘bundle’, and the clients perform the remaining tasks on their own.”