A law practice may provide unbundled or limited legal services to clients online whether that practice is a completely web-based or an existing brick-and-mortar law office adding a virtual law office component.
Unbundled legal services are provided when an attorney creates a legal document or provides the legal guidance for clients, but the clients themselves are responsible for either filing the legal document or ensuring that the document is properly executed and handled according to the instructions and legal guidance provided by the attorney.
Simply put, the attorney is handling the legal work and the online client is doing the footwork. A virtual law practice offering these services permits an attorney to tap into a large market need for accessible and affordable legal services to lower and moderate-income individuals.
Providing unbundled legal services does not prevent an attorney from providing full legal representation to clients through the technology, but it depends on the nature of the attorney’s law practice area(s), the nature of the client’s legal needs and the structure of the virtual law practice. If the attorney maintains a physical law office in addition to a virtual law office, the attorney may provide a combination of unbundled legal services online with full service representation. It depends on how the attorney incorporates the virtual practice component into their management structure.
The ABA is supportive of the practice of providing unbundled legal services. The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has an entire section on their website devoted to the topic of unbundled legal services. Articles and other resources on the topic are searchable on the website and may be accessed online. The Committee is also in the process of conducting a study going state-by-state to determine the extent to which attorneys are unbundling legal services and what methods they are using to do so.
Many state bar associations have also published articles about the need for attorneys to offer unbundled legal services and more affordable and accessible legal services to the public. Some state bars, such as the North Carolina State Bar, have specifically published ethics opinions permitting virtual law practices and encouraging the practice of providing unbundled legal services online.
Next Up: Some Examples of Providing Unbundling Legal Services Online
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