Unbundled legal services are the new big thing in the U.S., and I’m sure it’s going to creep up here too (if it hasn’t already).
Basically, the term “unbundled” means breaking down something complex into smaller and simpler components.
Take, for example, incorporating your business. Incorporating generally involves preparing and filing articles of incorporation with the appropriate government institution (e.g. Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services). But incorporating also requires the drafting and passing of corporate by-laws, director/shareholder resolutions, and minutes. So unbundled legal services for incorporating could involve one of these services rather than the full gamut; making sure that everything is in order would be up to the client, not the lawyer (who is on a limited retainer).
The benefits to unbundled legal services are quite evident: lower costs and more ownership over decision-making for clients. Hourly rates are exchanged with fixed rates, thereby giving the client certainty and comfort over the cost of legal services. For lawyers, it makes their services (albeit in limited fashion) more accessible to a larger market. Not all lawyers will be able/willing to offer unbundled legal services. Most likely, those lawyers involved in high volume, transactional work will be better prepared to offer it as opposed to lawyers who have long-term relationships (e.g. involving litigation) with their clients.
The disadvantages to unbundled legal services are also obvious: given their lack of knowledge, skills, and experiences with the entire legal process, clients may make costly mistakes. Documents may not be properly filled out or filed if clients try to do it all themselves. Clients may also end up doing more harm to their case by being ill-prepared and presenting a poor case before a judicial authority.
Overall, there’s no denying that unbundled legal services may end up being at the forefront of new trends for the masses who cannot otherwise afford to hire a full fledged lawyer to represent them.