What are Unbundled Services and Limited Scope Retainers?
Welcome to the world of the family law self-rep.
You’re in family court and you need some legal advice or assistance. You can’t afford to hire a lawyer to take over your case, but you still want some help. What you’re looking for is called an “unbundled service”.
An “unbundled service” is when a lawyer does something for a client that’s part of what would be done on a full-service retainer. It might be to do some legal research, to draft or revise a particular document, or to appear in court for the client using the material the client has prepared. It can be any piece, but not all, of what the lawyer would normally do if fully representing the client in the traditional way. And it can also include legal coaching. When a lawyer does this, it’s done with what’s called a “limited scope retainer”.
People in family court acting for themselves, who can’t afford, or don’t want to, turn their matter over to a lawyer to handle usually could still benefit from some specific help and assistance. Because less work is involved, the cost for a lawyer providing one or more unbundled service is less.
All the Solution Packages offered through The Family Law Coach are unbundled services.
Not all unbundled services and fees are the same
More and more lawyers are providing unbundled services. That’s a good thing.
But not all lawyers mean the same thing when they offer unbundled services and not all lawyers charge the same way. That’s not a good thing.
Just because a service is “unbundled” doesn’t mean it’s affordable.
The most common form of unbundled service is where the client meets with the lawyer to go over what they need, what the lawyer could provide, and then work out together what will be done, and the cost. The value to this is that the service you get should be tailored to what you want. Different lawyers offering unbundled services may see what you need differently. So, you may have to meet with several lawyers before finding one who will do what you have in mind and do it at a cost you can afford.
The meeting to figure out what you’ll be getting may or may not be free. That’s up to the lawyer. Lawyers are entitled to charge for their time, of course, but this means you’ll be spending time and possibly paying money, before you get started just to find out what the service is that you’ll be buying, and if this is the lawyer you want to work with.
TIP: Spending money before you get started is something a person concerned about legal fees needs to be careful about.
Be sure to find out in advance if that first meeting will be free or not. If not, find out the cost before going. Don’t choose your lawyer just because the initial visit is free. It’s experience and quality that you’re looking for.
Usually you’ll be charged the lawyer’s regular hourly rate for the time it takes the lawyer to provide the unbundled service you’ve agreed to. And you may or may not know in advance what the final cost will be unless you negotiate some clear price before you begin.
Some lawyers, after meeting with you and working out what the unbundled service will be, will give you a fixed fee, or set a maximum amount to be charged, no matter what. It’s important that you work this out clearly, in advance, so you know what the cost of the service will be and what you’ll get for that cost before you agree to anything.
There’s a big advantage to negotiating a fixed fee for your unbundled service. It gives you certainty as to what the cost will be.
But there are 2 problems with this that you need to consider. If the service takes less time than the lawyer anticipated, you’re overpaying. And if it takes more time, then you’ve got a lawyer who is now working for free, and most lawyers get grumpy when they realize they’re no longer getting paid for the time spent on your matter – even though they set the fee themselves.
To avoid the potential of working for free in that case, most lawyers will give a higher quote to cover the unpredictable. This means you’re paying for more time than the lawyer estimates will really be needed. On the other hand, it’s possible that you’ll get a refund if it takes less time than the quote covers. That’s just the way it works.
If the lawyer is setting an hourly rate but putting a cap on the fee, a figure that will be the maximum to be charged, you don’t have to worry about overpaying, but you still need to worry about the enthusiasm of the lawyer if they reach the maximum agreed upon and now have to continue to work on your file without any more payment.
And if the lawyer doesn’t give you a fixed fee, or agree to a cap, but will be charging at their regular rate, you have no control over how much time is being used and charged for. If you run out of money before the service is completed, you’ve spent your budget and have nothing of value for it.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t check around to see if you could benefit from an unbundled service. It’s to say that you need to be careful. and that you should check out both the scope of what the lawyer will do for you, and the cost, before committing to hiring the lawyer.
How The Family Law Coach unbundled services are different
The Coach lawyers offering The Family Law Coach Solutions only offer unbundled services. We’ve seen that most people acting for themselves want more from a lawyer than to just prepare a document, or give some specific advice, and disappear. They want both help preparing their material and help presenting it. And they want to have a lawyer available later on when something comes up. That’s why each of our unbundled services includes coaching.
“Coaching” is helping the client handle their matter themselves. It’s not only about providing specific legal assistance, but also about giving the skills and tips a person representing themselves needs to present their case as persuasively as possible. It’s being there when you need some extra help so you can tell your story with confidence. (Check out “What’s Legal Coaching and How it Can Work for You” for more about this.)
But because coaching isn’t something that’s done as part of a traditional, full-service, retainer, most lawyers offering unbundled services don’t have the training or experience – or the interest – to provide it.
The Family Law Coach Solution Packages are a combination of both legal assistance and coaching. And instead of just doing the service and being finished with you, The Family Law Coach lawyer assigned to you is an ongoing resource you can contact throughout your matter, whenever you want, for as long or short a time as you want, by phone or email without any office visit.
By including coaching as part of what we do, you get the help you need from a lawyer when you start, and then have that lawyer “on call” whenever you have question or want some assistance to deal with a matter later. Each of our Solution Packages is extendable at your choice.
With one of the Solution Packages offered through The Family Law Coach you to tell the lawyer how much time you want to pay for. You pay only for the time you use. And you control the amount of time, not the lawyer. At The Family Law Coach, you’re the Boss.