The number of self-represented litigants in our state family courts is high—in some courts, upward of 80 percent of divorce and separation cases involve at least one party who is without a lawyer. And civil litigation follows a similar trend with 76% of cases involving at least one self-represented party. The primary driver of self-representation is the inability to afford a lawyer. But by and large, litigants want lawyers.
Unbundled legal services, also called limited scope representation, is a service delivery model that holds promise for the growing numbers of self-represented litigants. IAALS has taken an advocacy role in advancing the implementation of unbundled legal services in order to both increase access to justice and also to provide new and established attorneys alike with an innovative business model for better serving clients.
- Encourage legal practitioners to implement unbundled legal services in their practice.
- Encourage other justice system stakeholders to support the widespread implementation of this service model.
- Create an ongoing dialogue among justice system stakeholders to support sharing and learning toward implementation of the unbundled legal services model.
There are many people going through divorce and separation, or any number of civil disputes, who do not have the financial means to hire a lawyer. IAALS' Cases Without Counsel study findings, and research undertaken by others, suggest that outcomes can be impacted when litigants are unrepresented. The unbundled legal services model provides litigants with the option of hiring a lawyer for only certain parts of the process, perhaps just the most difficult and confusing portions. This arrangement gives litigants access to affordable legal services and gives them certainty with respect to costs.
The unbundled model also provides attorneys with a new service delivery model—one that offers attorneys the opportunity to grow a new client base. Specifically, an unbundled model attracts litigants who would not (and could not) otherwise hire an attorney. Unbundling also allows attorneys to stay competitive in a changing legal services market, while also meeting the evolving needs of court users.
While unbundled legal services benefit both lawyers and litigants, the model has yet to reach widespread implementation around the country. Through research, recommendations, and stakeholder convenings, IAALS is working with national organizations and leaders in the field to provide guidance to unbundled practitioners and others, facilitate learning among practitioners, and create new partnerships and opportunities for collaboration.
In October 2017, IAALS partnered with the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services to host a national two-day conference on advancing implementation of the unbundled legal services model. The event brought together diverse stakeholders from 26 states, Washington D.C., and Canada to share perspectives, exchange best practices, and chart paths for deeper collaboration. This report provides a summary of the recommendations and solutions discussed, which are designed to add to the strengthening foundation for widespread implementation of unbundled legal services.
In 2015, IAALS, in partnership with the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), created unbundling guides and toolkits for consumers, non-legal professionals, lawyers, and court leadership. Each provides information, guidance, and additional resources tailored to the specific stakeholder.
- A Guide for Consumers is designed for parents seeking affordable legal assistance in family separation cases.
- A Guide for Non-Legal Professionals is designed to give information about the benefits of unbundled legal services and alternative processes that families can take.
- A Guide for Lawyers amasses helpful resources into an easily accessible Frequently Asked Questions format, centered on the fundamentals of unbundled legal services.
- A Toolkit for Court Leadership is designed to provide judicial leaders quick access to information on unbundled legal services and ways to promote its availability and use.
Models of Collaboration
The collaboration of stakeholders is vital to increasing the use of unbundled legal services. Below are a few areas for potential collaboration among stakeholders.
- Legal Providers & Technology Providers:
- Technology providers are playing an essential role in expanding unbundled legal services by facilitating connections between clients and legal service providers. Technology providers are also creating efficiencies on the practice side, making an unbundled model more accessible.
- Court Systems & Legal Professionals:
- Court staff and judges can educate litigants on the existence of unbundled legal services, provide litigants with a list of unbundled attorney providers, and host CLE education programs on unbundling.
- Attorneys & Community Organizations:
- Community organizations (healthcare facilities, immigration clinics, etc.) can provide natural sites for attorney-client partnerships in various substantive legal areas that lend themselves to an unbundled model.
Stages of Strategic Planning
The information below provides tailored strategic plans for increasing the visibility, adoption, and use of the unbundled delivery model in jurisdictions that are in vastly different stages of implementing unbundled legal services.
- Crawling Stage:
- Jurisdictions having just begun the conversation on unbundling should first work on changing their rules and regulations, framing the need for unbundling, understanding constituent and community needs, and recruiting champions.
- Walking Stage:
- Jurisdictions with the regulatory infrastructure and stakeholder support system already in place can work on attorney education and training, broader recruiting programs, and business model messaging.
- Running Stage:
- Jurisdictions where unbundling is already an established fixture can work on referral pipelines, outreach to community organizations, robust public education, and refining and expanding messaging.
Recognizing that providing stakeholders with an opportunity to share best practices and lessons learned is a key component of advancing unbundling, IAALS has hosted three national conferences to date.
- April 19, 2021
- April 17, 2019
- October 9, 2018
- September 25, 2018
- September 5, 2018