Unbundling of legal services: the way forward for progressive law firms?

At a recent breakfast forum hosted by Epoq at the Law Society, the meaning and implications of ‘unbundling’ legal services was discussed by a group of London based lawyers.  The title of the forum: “Unbundled legal services: the way forward for progressive law firms?” was designed to place the subject in the context of a rapidly changing legal services market place; one in which traditional law firms are having to rethink the way they deliver and charge for their services.

But what exactly are ‘unbundled’ legal services? And why should law firms be thinking about them?

Below is a summary of the presentation given by Richard Cohen, solicitor and chairman of Epoq, which explained what is meant by unbundled legal services and how it can benefit both law firms and clients.

What are ‘unbundled’ legal services?

Essentially, a solicitor breaks down the tasks associated with a legal matter and only provides representation to the client pertaining to a portion of their legal needs.  The client then accepts the responsibility for doing the legwork for the remainder of their legal matter until it is completed.

Is there a market for unbundled services?

Increasingly, we live in a DIY society and consumers understand that when a product or service has a DIY component, it tends to be more affordable.  This is seen as an acceptable tradeoff for doing a little or a lot of the legwork.  Furthermore, in the current economy, many lower to moderate income individuals are more than willing to do the extra work to save money on their legal needs.

What are the economic benefits for the law firm?

By reducing the price of a legal service, the market for it will expand.  Unbundling can also enable the solicitor to develop an initial client relationship around a limited less costly task, but which can lead to a larger engagement in the future.  And by reducing the points of friction and risk for the client in selecting and working with a solicitor, unbundling can help generates legal fee income where previously there would have been none.

What about the public?

Essentially, law firms offering unbundled services are offering greater access to the legal system. For those members of the public unable to afford a fully managed legal service, an unbundled or partially managed service provides an affordable option. Or for many others, it could provide a more convenient way to get their legal matter resolved.

Meeting client needs

Understanding the needs of your clients enables you to create a service mix that is responsive to a range of client needs. You don’t have to provide full scale legal services to every client who wants to use your services.

Reasons why a client might choose an unbundled service

Perhaps top of the list will be affordability and fixed-fee billing. Control and convenience will be important factors too, with clients taking on tasks at time and place that suits them. And, for many the engagement will be less intimidating.

What are the ethics of unbundling?

There is nothing to prevent “Limited Engagement” in the SRA Code of Conduct subject to Chapter 1 outcomes.

What sorts of services can be unbundled?

This will depend on the type of legal service being offered, but can include the following:

  • Ghostwriting  correspondence
  • Drafting pleadings or orders
  • Document review
  • Conducting legal research
  • Negotiating
  • Making limited Court appearances
  • Advising on court procedures
  • Advising on strategy
  • Organising discovery materials
  • Drafting contracts and agreements
  • Providing legal guidance or opinions

Document assembly automation

The automation of document assembly is a great example of how an aspect of legal service delivery can be unbundled, especially when delivered over the Web. Once automated, the service can be delivered over a wide area and can be provided directly to the client after solicitor review or in conjunction with additional legal advice.  It also lends itself to delegation to a paralegal for more routine aspects.

The future of unbundling in legal services: predictions

  •  Fixed priced legal services delivered online will become a dominant pattern sooner or later.
  •   Movement from passive law firm web sites to interactive virtual law firms. Almost all law firms serving individuals and SME’s will have some form of a “client portal” in the next five years.
  •   Increasing delivery of “unbundled” legal services to individuals and SME’s.
  •   Pressured by change in consumer behaviour and legal service competitors.

Change happens

Everyone has options about how they chose to deal with change:

  1. Ignore it and hope it goes away
  2. Try to resist or stop it
  3. Go with the flow
  4. Chose to actively understand it and turn it to your advantage

The first two options are unsustainable and the third is passive. Only the last gives you the power to harness change and put it to work for you.

It’s your choice!

Richard Cohen, solicitor & chairman, Epoq

Check out our video to see how online document automation could work for your firm.  Call us on 0845 644 9444 for more information about our services for law firms.