Unbundling (also called limited scope representation or à la carte legal services) allows a consumer to hire a lawyer to handle a discrete part of a legal matter. For example, a businesswoman might want to draft a contract and have an attorney review it. Also growing in popularity is paying a lawyer to answer a legal question online. The resultant savings to consumers, and increased access to justice, could be significant.
One of the obstacles to unbundling is that some lawyers are concerned that ethics rules define their duty to their client in such a way that they cannot agree to represent them for only part of a matter. Montana recently adopted rules that would facilitate such services by making it clear that clients can consent to limited representation. They also provide protection to consumers and lawyers by requiring them to sign an unbundling agreement. The Montana rules go far toward implementing two elements of Responsive Law's reform agenda: fostering innovation in the legal industry and requiring all engagement agreements to be in writing. (Our complete Client's Bill of Rights is here.)
Clarifying what types of unbundled services lawyers may provide benefit consumers even more. States also need to adopt clearer rules and definitions regarding the unauthorized practice of law, which would allow non-lawyer legal services providers to innovate as well.
We encourage other states to follow Montana's lead in improving access to justice and accountability in the legal system.