Family Unbundled Legal Services

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Background

“Unbundling” refers to a situation where a lawyer provides limited scope services to a client, rather than providing full scope legal services… Limited scope legal services refers to a situation where a lawyer performs discrete tasks for a client, and the client handles other matters that, in a full service retainer, would form part of the services the lawyer would provide.

– Report of the Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force, LSBC, April 2008

Many people can afford to pay something for legal services; they often cannot afford the cost of the full representation model.

In 2008, the Law Society of BC Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force found that unbundling could be a valuable tool for enhancing access to justice by allowing people to retain lawyers for discrete services, and in accordance with their financial means. The Code was amended in 2011. However, in 2016 few BC family lawyers offered unbundled legal services. Those that did often offered them on an ad hoc basis and rarely advertised this approach. This made it very difficult for clients to find these lawyers when they need them. There is a particular gap in unbundled services to support families who use mediation to resolve their family disputes. Given that the Family Law Act strongly encourages families to use “out of court” methods, more legal support is needed.

We use “unbundling” to describe a lawyer providing legal services for a part, rather than the whole, of the client’s legal matter.  It includes “legal coaching”.  The Lab supported Mediate BC’s Family Unbundled Legal Services Project which aimed to encourage more family lawyers to offer and promote unbundled legal services to BC families.  More information on the project is set out below. The project completed in June 2017 and produced a number of key deliverables including an Unbundling Roster, Lawyer Toolkit, Client Toolkit and Clicklaw Helpmap.  The project helped to spur a momentum around unbundling.  The Lab continues to support A2JBC’s Unbundling Working Group and the new CBABC provincial Unbundled Legal Services Section (which applies to unbundling in all practice areas).

The Lab’s support included encouraging collaboration between stakeholders, the use of developmental evaluation, an experimental / iterative approach, and tracking and sharing of learnings along the way.

What is the Family Unbundled Legal Services Project (the “Project”)?

The Family Legal Services Unbundling Project is inspired by the Law Society of BC, generously funded by the Law Foundation of BC, administered by Mediate BC and supported by the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab. It aims to encourage more family lawyers to offer unbundled legal services to support families using mediation. It will find out more about how some lawyers are using unbundling successfully (and build on those experiences), surface the concerns and barriers that are inhibiting BC family lawyers from offering these services and develop strategies to alleviate those concerns. We are particularly interested in exploring various business models as this approach must be both affordable for families and sustainable financially for the lawyers involved.

While the project focuses on mediation-related unbundled legal services, much will be learned about unbundled legal services in general. The goal is to increase access to family lawyers providing unbundled services by, in part, creating a list/roster of family lawyers willing and well-equipped to provide unbundled services and communicating well with the public.  The project is working collaboratively with the Unbundling Initiative of Access to Justice BC which is exploring unbundled legal services of all kinds to support families.

Current Status

The project kicked off on January 1, 2016 and ran until June 2017. Phase 1 focused on engagement with the family bar, mediators, legal organizations, the Judiciary and the public.

In Phase 2 the project used the information from Phase 1 to design and implement strategies to address concerns and build on successes.

To learn more contact Project Manager Kari D. Boyle at kari.boyle@shaw.ca or 604-838-2149.