Unbundled legal services are a fancy label for a simple concept: buying legal services “a la carte.” Instead of buying a whole meal, for example, maybe you just want to order a side dish, or the main course without all the sides. Well, in a restaurant you would browse through the “a la carte” menu and pick what you want. The same thing is true for unbundled legal services. Most law firms are full service firms. They will prepare you documents, go to court for you and with you, propound and respond to discovery, engage in negotiations for you, etc. All that work generally comes at a very steep price – attorney’s fees at $200 or more per hour, paralegal fees at $100 or more per hour, legal assistant fees, secretary fees, postage, courier fees, parking fees, blah blah blah. It is like going to a five star hotel and charging everything to your room number – ordering room service, watching pay-per-view, getting that couples’ massage, and, yes, even cracking open the honor bar. It is wonderful until you get the bill. You faint, and when you come to, you cringe because you already pre-authorized them to charge your credit card.
For people who do not want or cannot afford the 5 star hotel treatment for their divorce, there are unbundled services. Instead of the full service approach to law, you can have your documents prepared for you. Or you can get help with discovery. Or you can have an attorney represent you at a court hearing. Or write a letter for you. Or all of the above. It is like a “pay as you go” plan because you can choose how much or how little you want an attorney to do for you. In California, unbundled services are catching on. Some divorce attorneys call them limited scope services, and if you have an attorney appear in court with you who is only engaged for that hearing, chances are, the attorney will be filing a “notice of limited scope representation” for that hearing only. This way, you can get the help you want for the individual hearing and not have to keep paying the attorney to show up for another hearing, or do anything else on your case. You will be able to take care of those things yourself and not have to pay a lot to do them because unlike the attorney, you work for yourself for free.
According to a divorce lawyer some people would consider the document preparation services offered by freelance paralegals aka LDA’s (legal document assistants) to be an unbundled legal service. Except that LDAs cannot practice law and what they offer is closer to a form-filling service. Even selecting a form to fill out is technically practicing law. If a person engages an LDA to prepare their documents, unless they give specific instructions as to what forms to use and what to put in the forms, then the LDA may run afoul of practicing law without a license. But people do use them. A lot. At their own risk.
As a cost-saving measure, unbundled legal services are great. If you are looking to keep the cost of your divorce down, you may consider using the services of a divorce mediator who is also an attorney (a “mediator/LDA” still cannot practice law). Attorney mediators such as myself can help people keep their legal costs low by charging discounted package prices for mediation services, which include document preparation and preparation of all the judgment forms. If you are interested in a flat fee divorce, just call my office and ask about my flat fee divorce mediation services.