“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

Background

Many people can afford to pay something for legal services; they often cannot afford the cost of the full representation model. “Unbundling” can fill that gap.

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 (now hosting 150 BC family lawyers – www.unbundling.ca), 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.

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 including the Roster, Toolkits, and Clicklaw Helpmap. While the project has wound up, the Lab continues to support the unbundling movement including the development of the new public-facing website developed by People’s Law School (and funded by the Law Foundation of BC) providing information and tools for members of the public about unbundling: www.unbundlinglaw.ca.

Unbundling Research Project 2021

With funding from the Legal Aid BC / Law Foundation of BC Research Fund, the Lab is working with Standpoint Decision Support Inc. (Matt Sims) to take a novel approach to measuring the effectiveness of Unbundling.

To do this, we need evidence about the client’s experience of unbundling and details of the experience of the legal professionals as well.  If legal professionals do not see advantages both for their clients AND for their own practices they will not use or promote unbundling.

This new initiative launched in November 2020. It aims to create a user-friendly system to collect and report, on an ongoing basis, the experiences of both lawyers and clients. So, in addition to providing a point-in-time snapshot of effectiveness, it will also create a continuous, evidence-based process and tool to stimulate further innovation.

The approach is also designed to align with the four main ways that Access to Justice BC hopes to achieve a shift in the culture of the BC justice system:

  • User/client centred
  • Collaborative
  • Experimental
  • Evidence-based.

Initiative Overview

Our project manager Matt Sims (Standpoint Decision Support Inc.) created a website to describe the initiative, track our progress and support collaboration and communication. 

We invite you to explore the following pages on the site:

  • Overview:  an overview of the initiative, objectives, and desired outcomes
  • Project Team:  So far, we have 10 legal professionals who have agreed to present a quick 5 question survey to their unbundling clients.  In addition, three people (lawyers and an unbundling client with experience in unbundling) have kindly volunteered to provide advice and feedback along the way.
  • System Thinking page:  Describes in more detail the approach we are taking, what we are measuring, the 5 “dimensions of effectiveness” we are proposing to focus on initially, how this initiative fits with the Triple Aim, AND the questions we are proposing to present to clients (one for each of the 5 selected dimensions).

Knowing that we are starting small and taking an experimental approach, we tried to select 5 of the most important measurable dimensions (discoverability, agency, affordability, convenience and resolution) and matching questions for client experience. These can be found at the bottom of the Systems Thinking page.  We also identified four dimensions for the legal professional’s experience: profitability, referability, access to justice and well-being.

We are also working on enhancing the current Roster to make it more user-friendly for clients and legal professionals.

To see the survey results to date check out the dashboard information. The dashboard is automatically updated as new survey information is provided.

Phase 1 of the project continues until November 2021. We will be seeking additional funding for Phase 2.

Please contact karidboyle86@gmail.com with any comments or questions. Also, please click here if you would like to be informed about our progress.  


[1] Family Justice Innovation Lab Society, incorporated September 2019.