Have We Become A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers?

As we usher in the new year, rework our business plans, figure out how we are going to bring in our next client , I read a very timely op-ed piece in the New York Times written by two Chief Justices.  They very effectively describe what many have predicted is the future of law – a nation of do-it-yourself ‘lawyers’ armed with legal sites, forms and the internet and potentially making lawyers services (as we have always traditionally known them to be) obsolete.

An increasing number of civil cases go forward without lawyers. Litigants who cannot afford a lawyer, and either do not qualify for legal aid or are unable to have a lawyer assigned to them because of dwindling budgets, are on their own — pro se. What’s more, they’re often on their own in cases involving life-altering situations like divorce, child custody and loss of shelter.As the economy has worsened, the ranks of the self-represented poor have expanded. In a recent informal study conducted by the Self-Represented Litigation Network, about half the judges who responded reported a greater number of pro se litigants as a result of the economic crisis. Unrepresented litigants now also include many in the middle class and small-business owners who unexpectedly find themselves in distress and without sufficient resources to pay for the legal assistance they need.

The piece is so well written I refer you to it here.

Once, again, it forces me to ask the following questions, “Have you looked at what you are offering to your clients from the client’s perspective?”  Are you just looking at what you need versus what they want?  And how are you positioning your business practices in order to meet the needs of the client all while protecting your bottom line?

If you haven’t asked these questions at the beginning of the new year you may be positioning yourself for difficulties.  This is not a question you want to be asking yourself after clients decline to retain you.  These are questions you need to address proactively before the next client walks through your door.

Are you considering ‘unbundling’ your services as an option?  Do you know how?

It is essential that we promote other efforts to close the “justice gap.”One such effort involves the “unbundling” of legal services. Forty-one states, including California and New Hampshire, have adopted a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association, or similar provisions, which allow lawyers to unbundle their services and take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice known as “limited-scope representation” that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities.

Unbundled legal services will be a mainstay of many a solo practitioner and it will prove essential to learn how to ethically and responsibly unbundle.  Those  most capable of embracing this quickly and being able to build a thriving practice around this concept are the solo practitioners.

Lawyers have argued if the courts embrace this type of delivery of services it undermines the need for a lawyer.  I beg to differ.  A lawyer’s value lies in their ability to counsel.  Effective counseling can convert a  do-it-yourself -er into a paying client.  The foresightedness to offer these services makes you more attractive to those on the fence.

I’ve recognized this reality for a long time and it is why we have two faculty, Richard Granat and Stephanie Kimbro,  teaching how to unbundle your practices at Solo Practice University.  Their bios speak volumes about their ability to educate today’s solo on ethical delivery of unbundled legal services.

Unbundled legal services will play a large role in the future of the profession.  It would be wise to understand it and learn it soon.

What do you think?

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