The Important Role of Judges in Advancing Unbundled Legal Services
Each month, the Colorado Lawyer publishes a “Judges Corner” article written by judges on a topic in which they are experts. I had the honor of working with Judge Daniel Taubman with the Colorado Court of Appeals and Judge Adam Espinosa with the Denver County Court to produce an article in this month’s issue on the topic of unbundling. Both judges have extensive experience on unbundling as members of the Colorado Access to Justice Commission, have helped organize the “Unbundling Road Show,” and have given numerous presentations to judges on the topic.
Unbundled legal services, also known as limited scope representation, is a type of representation where an attorney and client agree that the attorney will perform a limited number of tasks in a legal matter as opposed to handling everything. In Colorado, unbundling is permitted in state trial courts, appellate courts, and is now permitted in the federal trial court as of 2016.
In addition to laying out the rules on unbundling in Colorado, Judges Taubman and Espinosa detail the important role that judges must play in promoting and encouraging the use of unbundled legal services. They note:
“As the use of unbundling increases throughout Colorado and the rest of the country, judges can play an important leadership role in promoting and encouraging lawyers to include unbundling as part of their practice.”
Judges can teach lawyers about the benefits and increasing use of unbundling, in addition to assuaging their fears about malpractice.
And, judges play an important role in educating self-represented litigants (SRLs) and court staff as well, so that SRLs learn about the service groups and community organizations that can help provide unbundling services and court staff can better direct SRLs to the resources they need. There are also special processes that court staff need to utilize in unbundled cases so that lawyers are provided only the notices necessary to represent their client in the agreed-upon limited capacity.
Aside from educating others on the use of unbundled legal services, judges’ responsibilities inside the courtroom will also increase. It is important that judges clarify with all parties the scope of the limited representation, as it affects who the court and opposing party must communicate with, in addition to whom notices must be sent.
Unbundled legal services are extremely beneficial to SRLs who are unable to afford the full representation of an attorney, and it can also expand attorneys’ practices by allowing them to serve clients who otherwise would not be able to afford their services. As judges use their unique position to encourage this valuable service, they will be helping promote access to justice for all.