What Does It Mean to Empower Your Clients?

To many clients, one of the key benefits of unbundled legal services is that clients have the opportunity to play a key role in solving their own legal problems. They appreciate the “partnership” approach between lawyer and client and say that they feel more “empowered”. Forrest (“Woody”) Mosten, the Father of Unbundling, says:

“Unbundling is based on a power-sharing between attorney and client as to how to handle the case and who will do the work. Also, unbundling and Collaborative Law both underscore client empowerment as the basis for these forms of legal services.”

An empowerment approach also helps to build the client’s own capacity to solve their own problems in the future. [Note 1]

For many lawyers with experience in the full representation model, this different approach may feel foreign or even substandard. But if we consider that many clients cannot afford to be fully represented by a lawyer (or may have been fully represented and run out of money), unbundling is the only viable alternative to self-representation. Therefore, it is important to think carefully about what it means to empower a client through unbundled legal services.

If empowering the client is a key element of a successful unbundling relationship, then what exactly does that mean?

Fortunately, Zahra H. Jimale, an experienced B.C. family lawyer, has thought deeply about this question and presented on this topic to the CBABC Unbundled Legal Services Section meeting on November 21, 2018. She has kindly given me permission to publish her powerpoint presentation including her speaking notes as part of this post. We have added the presentation to the Family Law Unbundling Toolkit on the website of the Courthouse Libraries BC. You can find it here (the first document in the “Information about Unbundling” section).

Zahra emphasizes that “clients are the experts in their own lives” and that “this is the client’s life, and we (the lawyers) are here to assist.”

This one slide highlights the essence of empowerment in this context:

I highly recommend this thoughtful and helpful piece for lawyers in any practice area. Client empowerment isn’t just a key piece of unbundled legal services. It can transform any lawyer/client relationship.


Note 1: John-Paul Boyd: Client and Lawyer Satisfaction with Unbundled Legal Services: Conclusions from the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project – “d) more than half of clients said that the services they received improved their ability to identify other legal problems in the future (53.8%); and, e) almost three – fifths of clients said that the services they received improved their ability to deal with other legal problems in the future (59.3%).”

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