Conventionally, lawyers have provided a bundle of services. When hiring a lawyer, you could expect him or her to handle your case from start to finish – including drafting pleadings, investigating and verifying information, interviewing witnesses, preparing arguments, writing letters, negotiating, appearing on your behalf in court, and finalizing all documents. Lawyers were a one-stop shop.
Those of us who went to law school several decades ago expected to do all of these things. We were taught that it could be dangerous and unethical not to: when we signed up a client, it was our duty to provide thorough and zealous representation. If we left any stone unturned, we could be rightly accused of professional negligence.
Then, lawyers were also the keepers of all legal information. To find out about your legal rights and obligations, you went to a lawyer. Or, I suppose, you went to a law library, where you might have faced walls of books comprehensible only to the professionals. What a frustrating experience it would have been to try to represent yourself!
All of that has changed. With the internet at our fingertips, we have grown accustomed to seeking and finding answers to our questions, often without even leaving home. As a result, I and other lawyers are seeing clients who often are better informed, more focused, and more independent. They can do more themselves, and they don’t want us to do it for them.
Additionally, of course, lawyers are expensive. Comprehensive representation by a lawyer is not affordable for many. So, whether they want more autonomy in resolving their legal matters or whether they simply have to economize, clients are asking us to tailor our services to fit their specific needs, and to trust them to determine where those needs start and stop.
So, we are “unbundling” our services — offering them in parts rather than only as a whole. This means that you can hire a lawyer for just an hour’s consultation or for ongoing phone or face-to-face support; to draft documents or to review documents prepared by another; to give advice and then back away, or to actively assist you in your negotiations. Your attorney can accompany you to mediation, or not. Your attorney can speak for you if you wish, or will be quiet if that is what you prefer.
In my practice, I try always to support the out-of-court process the client has chosen — whether that involves negotiating with a spouse directly and without facilitation, or working with a professional mediator (who is sometimes an attorney, sometimes a divorce coach with a mental health background, and sometimes a financial analyst). I tell my clients I can be as active or inactive as you choose; let’s discuss what works for you.