Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Order up! Legal services go a la carte
As more attorneys offer unbundled legal services, they're seeing that it's not just good for access-to-justice. It's good for their bottom line.
By JAMES CARLSON
Unbundled legal services are trumpeted as part of the solution to Colorado's access-to-justice problem, and the benefits to underserved clients are certainly real. The benefits to attorneys, however, are often overlooked.
A small but growing group of attorneys are finding that unbundled legal services represent a significant portion of their business model.
"It's probably about 50 percent of my practice right now," said Danae Woody, a family law practitioner in Denver. "Literally the last few months, every one of my clients has used unbundled legal services, and that's fine with me."
Woody is part of a group of lawyers and judges who offer presentations across Colorado about unbundled legal services, or limited scope representation. The traveling roadshow, organized by the Colorado Bar Association, tells attendees that unbundled legal services have an undeserved bad rap. The fears often cited by attorneys are easily prevented, and the benefits are hard to ignore.
What's in it for you?
By offering unbundled legal services, an attorney broadens the pool of potential clients, said Edwards-based attorney Amy Goscha. Goscha practices family law and estate planning and is a presenter at the traveling roadshow.
She said she gets lower-income clients who otherwise couldn't afford a full-retainer. She also gets higher-income clients who think bringing in a full-time attorney increases the adversarial environment. Instead, they like having an attorney on the side to consult on discrete questions. For both populations, unbundled legal services allows them to see if the relationship will work.
"It's a test drive," Goscha said.
Want to learn more?
And oftentimes it leads to a bigger purchase. She estimated between 40 and 50 percent of her unbundled clients convert to full representation at some point. Woody has had a similar experience. She said upwards of 70 percent of her unbundled clients opt for full representation.
Woody also has noticed something different about her clients who opt for unbundled legal services. In her traditional full-representation cases, her clients may feel fine about the outcome, but they also feel beaten down.
Not so with her unbundled clients. "They leave feeling respected," she said. "They feel like they got helped. They feel they got a good deal, and they're so grateful for it."
What's the worry?
The traveling roadshow participants hear the same fear from attorneys around the state: Limited scope representation may constitute an entry of appearance and they will therefore be stuck on a case.
That's not the reality, said Kathleen Schoen, Director of Local Bar Relations and Access to Justice for the CBA. She helps organize the roadshows and said judges who attend always tell lawyers how much they love limited representation in their courtrooms. The fewer unprepared pro se litigants, the smoother the wheels of justice turn. The lawyers who present at the events also say they've never been forced to continue on a case past their agreed-upon scope.
Schoen said the reason is simple: "You just follow the rules."
James Garts, a Denver-area family law practitioner, said obtaining informed consent from your client is key. While a written fee agreement is not necessary, he always uses one. And he makes clear in his engagement letter, the limitations of his representation.
Limited scope representation falls into two broad categories: discrete tasks and limited entry of appearance. For information on discreet tasks such as helping to draft a pleading or paper -- so-called "ghostwriting," -- see C.R.C.P. 11(b). For proper procedures on limited entry of appearance, see C.R.C.P 121. Woody said she's never seen an attorney who followed the proper procedures get stuck on a case.
Goscha said she likes to go beyond the procedures laid out in C.R.C.P. 11(b) and 121. For instance, C.R.C.P. 121 requires only that an attorney file with the court and opposing counsel a notice of their limited entry of appearance and a notice of termination. Goscha, however, will also verbally remind the judge about her termination at the end of a hearing so that there's a minute order reflecting her limited entry.
"It all comes down to clear communication with your client and with the court," she said.A bigger picture
In a traditional retainer model, clients sometimes wonder how and why their money is getting spent. In an unbundled model, clients should be very clear from the engagement letter about the discrete task or limited court appearance for which they're paying.
Woody said this is why her unbundled clients are often more satisfied with their experiences.
"If we can give clients this option where they see that we're not out to gouge them," she said, "they're going to come away with a better image of lawyers and the courts. That's ultimately good for us."
James Carlson is the Information Resources Coordinator at the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.