How to Move Unbundling Forward

I wish to respond to the NSRLP’s August 9th post entitled The Failure of Unbundled Legal Services to Meet the Crisis in Access to Justice. While I loved the article, the title gave me pause.

The title implies that unbundled legal services have been a failure. Yet the body of the article says:

For all these reasons, unbundled service ought to be a practical and useful alternative for increasing access to justice for many more litigants, for a more efficient legal system, and for a mutually satisfying service model for both clients and lawyers.

Perhaps the title was intended to be provocative. The article provides a strong case for the benefits of unbundling to the public, legal professionals and the system as a whole.

We have never promoted unbundling (including legal coaching) as the silver bullet for improving access to justice. No one initiative could ever do that. On the contrary, it needs to be one key part of a broader ecosystem of tools and new business models. And unbundling is certainly not failing – not according to those clients who have used them. While our dataset is still small, clients responding to the short survey designed by the Unbundled Legal Services Research Project (funded by the Legal Aid BC / Law Foundation of BC Legal Research Fund) gives unbundling high marks. And the client comments are uniformly positive:

The article states that what is NOT working with unbundling is that not enough lawyers are offering this type of legal service. It concludes that lawyers are not fulfilling their “moral imperative flowing from the profession’s obligations to promote the public interest, and from the monopoly that the profession has in providing legal services.”

While this may be part of the reason, unbundling involves MORE than just a moral imperative. There are many tangible and rewarding benefits of unbundling for legal professionals on both a business and personal level. An unbundling business model can provide both financial rewards and well-being for the legal professionals. Clio’s February 2022 article confirms many solid business reasons for unbundling. For these reasons, several lawyers are refashioning their practices to focus exclusively on unbundled services. Examples locally include: Sonali Sharma (Athena Law), Laurel Dietz (Alinea Legal Coaching), Coach My Case, and the new Everyone Legal Clinic.

There are also many exciting examples from other Canadian jurisdictions and internationally including The Commons Law Centre in Portland Oregon and The Law Shop in Iowa.

More than 16 new legal professionals applied to join the Roster this past summer bringing the total active members to over 200!

Unbundling is applicable in a wide variety of practice areas, not just family law. In BC we hope to expand the BC Family Unbundling Roster to feature legal professionals who provide unbundled services in many different areas.

Digby Leigh & Co uses an unbundling model extensively in a commercial practice. Digby says the primary benefit for the legal professional and client is that the unbundling business model starts with efforts to build a trusting relationship on an initial smaller well-contained project. For the legal professionals, this is the foundation of future business/referrals and job satisfaction. For the clients, it gives confidence that the lawyer has their best interest in mind and can do the job well and within an agreed budget. Unbundling allows lawyer and client to test the waters by starting small. He confirms that this approach “absolutely leads to more access to solid legal advice.”

Check out this recent post about the firm’s innovative pricing strategies.

In addition to raising awareness of unbundling within the profession, there is also a need for more public awareness about unbundled services. There are excellent websites in BC (; which speak directly to clients. But more resources need to be dedicated to public education AND education of trusted intermediaries.

Unbundling has not “failed”. Rather, it has huge potential and deserves to be widely promoted with both clients and the profession.

Thanks to NSRLP and Jennifer Leitch for highlighting these important issues!

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