The Shrinking Value of Legal Expertise and the Importance of Offering Unbundled Legal Services

As people are able to do more legal work themselves, the value of full-service legal representation will diminish. As a result, lawyers will have to adjust to clients’ needs in order to stay profitable (and busy).

There are three basic reasons why clients hire lawyers: expertise, efficiency, and to assume risk.

Most obviously, clients hire lawyers to do things the client cannot do competently on their own, or that a lawyer can do better than the client because of greater experience.

Clients may also hire lawyers because it is more efficient to do so. A sophisticated businessperson may be perfectly capable of reviewing contracts for the sale of goods, but it may not be a good use of time for him or her to do so.

Finally, clients may hire lawyers who are willing to assume risk that the client is not willing or able to bear. Think contingent-fee matters like consumer, employment discrimination, and personal injury cases.

Of course, there are many legal matters that clients can handle themselves or with a little help from a lawyer. And, spurred on in large part by the internet and the democratization of access to information, the matters that clients can handle themselves are multiplying.

At first glance, this may look ominous for the legal profession. Not to me. Every change presents an opportunity. I think it is good news for lawyers, but it does mean we may have to re-think the nature of legal representation.

People are able to do more themselves because they can find information, forms, tutorials, and even advice online. They may not understand what accord and satisfaction is, exactly, but they can write the phrase in an answer easily enough.

Users of the legal system no longer need lawyers for their form banks and because they know how to file a document. They need lawyers to help them successfully navigate the legal system.

This is an opportunity for lawyers willing to offer limited-scope representation—often called unbundled legal services.

For example, many individuals can handle a hearing on their own, but need a lawyer to draft the memorandum of law. Others may just want to call or meet to consult from time to time, while they do the work themselves.

As you might imagine, many customers interested in unbundled services will be those who cannot afford full representation. But many others just do not want to pay for full representation. As a result, offering unbundled services is a way to expand one’s client base to clients who would not otherwise be clients.

Unbundled legal services are, for many attorneys—especially solo practitioners, the way forward in the changing legal market.

Coming soon: different types of unbundled services, ethical issues, keeping the court and opposing counsel advised of limited-scope representation arrangements, and more.

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