Evaluation Time for Unbundled Family Law Legal Services in BC

Back in January, BC lawyers received a host of new resources supporting unbundled legal service. Our organization helped launch the Family Law Unbundling Roster along with a toolkit for lawyers explaining why they should join. Unbundling is well described here.

Since then, conversations and buzz about unbundling has been doing the rounds here in BC and elsewhere:

  • The BC Law Society officially encouraged the provision of limited scope services, and debunked concerns that unbundled legal services has any correlation to increased complaints.
  • Former Ontario court chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo released her report (“Family Legal Services Review“) in March recommending more education on unbundled services.
  • The BC Provincial Court held its second ever Twitter Town Hall that featured a healthy amount of discussion around unbundling.

Over 90 BC lawyers and legal professionals are now part of the BC Family Unbundling Roster, and those who’ve supported the initiative are interested in learning what the impacts have been.

Call to action for providers and consumers of unbundled legal services in BC — Due May 31, 2017.

If you’ve recently provided unbundled legal services in BC, please consider this invitation from Kari Boyle (who’s championed the project to date):

[W]e invite you to take a few minutes to complete a confidential, online survey specially designed for family lawyers offering unbundled (and legal coaching) services. We know that there have been a LOT of survey requests recently but we really hope that you will take this important step. Your feedback is critical in building the future of this approach.

👉 This is the link to the family lawyer survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Unbundled_Services_Lawyers

If you are (or know of) someone who’s used unbundled legal services in their family law matter, please consider taking (or sharing) this survey:

👉 This is the link for clients: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/unbundled_family_legal_services

— Nate Russell is a liaison lawyer with Courthouse Libraries BC. Find him on Twitter @nrusse.


  1. Dan Pinnington

    Hi Nate
    BC lawyers may find LAWPRO’s Limited Scope Representation Resources page to be a useful resource. It has some sample limited scope retainers, and well checklists for lawyers and documents to help explain to clients how unbundling works. Visit it at http://www.practicepro.ca/practice/limitedscope.asp

  2. Thanks for the link to LawPro’s excellent resources page. I have to admit that in creating the BC Toolkit (http://www.courthouselibrary.ca/practice/familylaw/unbundling/) we drew inspiration from a number of helpful LawPro resources in our effort to create a set of materials designed to fit the BC milieu. All of the BC Toolkit items are completely Open Source and available for anyone to use. the plan is to keep it up to date and enhanced regularly. We are following your lead and building a Client Toolkit including materials that lawyers can download the use on their own websites etc. We are also working on brochures for the Courts to distribute to litigants. There is lots of momentum around unbundling at the moment. Thanks for your leadership! Kari

  3. John M. Hogg, Q.C.

    Unbundling will not work smoothly unless Supreme Court Judges are onside. There is significant resistance by some Judges when lawyers “Are not on the record” to having them appear for limited key functions. This is restricted resistance but when it happens is negative and even affects the parties adversely. Then the Registry staff picks up on the attitude of the Bench and makes it difficult for counsel and the parties to get things done efficiently and cost effective which is the original goal.
    Even when you appear for the full trial and sign the final order, then try to do some further things, the documents are bounced with a note “You are not on the records”. So misguided negative things happen which is time consuming and unhelpful to say the least. All starting with the Court making adverse comments about one party with a lawyer “not on the record” and what can or cannot happen as a result.
    So there has to be clear direction from the Chief about unbundling and that it is to be fostered not discouraged.
    It is discouraging to say the least to have to deal with a clearly hostile comments from the Bench about this.

  4. John, you raise one of the chief obstacles to unbundling. I would like to think that the comment by our Chief Justice here in BC presents a signal that the bench is willing to move forward, at least in principle.
    His blog post on the Access to Justice BC website urges lawyers to incorporate unbundling in their practice. The link is https://accesstojusticebc.ca/2016/11/15/invitation-to-lawyers-to-try-something-new-or-not-so-new/
    This is not to say that there is not a disarticulation between words in principle, and the practice on the ground among judges and Registry staff. There is, and it’s clearly a painpoint that deserves resolution.

  5. Public acceptance is a higher hurdle than convincing lawyers to provide limited scope legal services.

    There is still time for British Columbia to adopt a more consumerist and easier to understand term like limited legal services; the word: unbundled – is just not endearing.

  6. I agree with you on the problems around branding, Dom. I fear “unbundling” fails to convey a clear idea about what unbundled legal help means… so not the optimal marketing hook perhaps. I kind of like “law a la carte” — although it’s maybe too playful sounding (which in this case is not a good thing because legal problems are not fun, they’re stressful). “Task-to-task counsel” or “assisted self-rep” or “guided DIY”, maybe?
    But public awareness, rather than possible acceptance, is the challenge. I’ll plagiarize my earlier post on this point…
    “Evidence from Dr. Macfarlane’s study of 253 self represented litigants shows demand for unbundled services in spades. Among those respondents virtually all sought an arrangement resembling a limited scope retainer. They probably didn’t all use the exact term—but they knew what they wanted when they saw it. Only a handful actually received unbundled help, however. The problem was supply-side.”

  7. Really helpful discussion folks! John, your comments on the Supreme Court situation are very useful and timely. The project is liaising with all three levels of Court and are planning a Law at Lunch session with the Supreme Court judiciary in June. Any other scenarios that we could raise with them?
    Many thanks