Many people are unable to afford a lawyer for the entirety of their case and often pursue self-representation as a result. In both civil and family law, over 70 percent of cases have at least one party that is self-represented. And in some parts of the country, over 90 percent of eviction and debt collection cases involve a defendant representing themselves without a lawyer. Unfortunately, no matter how smart or educated one is, navigating a legal case without a lawyer can be extremely confusing and time-consuming, not to mention it can negatively affect the outcome of a case.
Many courts have created avenues to help self-represented litigants, by providing self-help materials and working with attorneys to provide 30 minutes to an hour of free legal advice at the courthouse. But even with these resources, many self-represented litigants struggle to navigate their case. There is another avenue though that most people are unaware of, one where they can receive help from a lawyer at a more affordable cost. This is called unbundled legal services and lawyers are more routinely providing this option.
Typically, lawyers work on a case from beginning to end. A lawyer providing unbundled legal services works on and charges for only the legal tasks that they agree to in advance, often based on what their clients can afford and need help with the most. Unbundled legal services are becoming a more popular and less expensive way to help people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer for the entirety of their case.
What can a lawyer providing unbundled legal services do?
- Write your petition or response, that you can then file on your own.
- Write the letters and other legal documents that are needed for your case.
- Review settlement agreements.
- Represent you in court.
How can unbundled legal services help the dispute resolution process?
Dispute resolution processes, such as mediation or parenting coordination (in a divorce or separation case), are designed to help people resolve their conflicts outside of the courtroom. This can be a better option than having a judge make a decision because they do not know each person’s unique situation as well as the person themselves. Although this process avoids the courtroom, it can still be difficult to navigate alone. A lawyer providing unbundled legal services can help their client understand the following:
- The rules of the dispute resolution process.
- The role of the mediator or facilitator.
- How to prepare for the process.
- Whether the process is confidential.
- How an agreement can become a court settlement.
- What happens if you do not reach an agreement.
- Any documents or information you will need.
- The issues that you will discuss.
- How much time you will have to explain your concerns.
- How to present yourself during the process.
What are some of the challenges of unbundled legal services?
Unbundled legal services are not for everyone. It is important for people considering this approach to think about whether unbundled legal services can work for them and their case. Some questions to ask include:
- Can my case be broken down into small steps, easily divided between me and my lawyer?
- Are there complicated issues that cannot easily be split between me and my lawyer?
- Are there important deadlines approaching that I am not able to meet?
The more complicated a case is, the harder it might be to divide into separate parts. As one decides whether to use unbundled legal services, they should think about and talk with the lawyers they might hire about how unbundled services can work in their case.
How to find unbundled legal services.
Be sure to ask about unbundled legal services when you reach out to a lawyer, and download our consumer guide and refer to it when you are talking with lawyers about your legal matter.
To find out more about how unbundled legal services work in your area, contact your local self-help center.
To learn more about unbundled legal services, go to the Self-Represented Litigation Network.
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