Unbundled Family Law Services: Limited Scope Retainers

By Monica McParland
Categories: Blog, Family Law

Traditionally, family law lawyers have been retained to represent clients by assisting them in resolving their disputes from start-to-finish. The lawyer’s representation of the client usually lasts several months or several years. At the start of a family law case it can be very difficult for the lawyer to predict exactly how much work will be involved before the parties reach a resolution, so it is challenging for a lawyer to predict the total fees. Unfortunately many clients simply cannot afford to pay for significant legal fees if the file continues unresolved over an extended time frame of months or years.

However a new trend is emerging in the practice of family law whereby lawyers are starting to offer clients “Unbundled” legal services. Simply put, unbundling is when a client retains a lawyer to perform only certain aspects of their family law case and the client is responsible to conduct the remainder of the case. Lawyers call this arrangement a “Limited Scope Retainer”.

In a Limited Scope Retainer, family lawyers offer various legal services to their clients in an a la carte menu whereby the client can pick and choose which services the client wishes to use. This model enables the client to carefully select those services for which he or she wishes to pay the lawyer, after weighing his or her needs and budget. One clear advantage of Limited Scope Retainers is that the client is able to exercise a measure of control and predictability over his or her spending on legal fees.

The a la carte services offered by a family law lawyer may include:

  • Initial Consultation Advice : the lawyer explains the law and provides an opinion as to the range of likely outcomes and the courses of action available to the client;
  • Independent Legal Advice: the lawyer explains the law and provides an opinion as to the fairness of a proposed settlement and the range of likely outcomes through litigation
  • Drafting family law agreements on terms provided by the client, including cohabitation, marriage and separation agreements;
  • Ongoing legal advice or coaching, provided on an as-needed basis;
  • Assisting clients in completing court forms, including affidavits and financial statements,
  • Guiding clients though the disclosure process;
  • Assisting clients with legal research
  • Conducting examinations for discovery or attending examinations for discovery for the client
  • Preparing “Desk Order Divorce” applications
  • Providing advice and analysis prior to Mediation
  • Representation in Mediation
  • Advising clients on their best and worst alternatives to a negotiated settlement
  • Preparing written agreements on the terms of any settlement reached at mediation

It is important to note that not every family law case may be appropriate to handle as a Limited Scope Retainer. The key to success is effective communication between the lawyer and client. In order for Limited Scope Retainers to work successfully there must be very clear understanding between the lawyer and client regarding precisely what tasks the lawyer will perform and which tasks the client will perform. In order to insure both parties fully understand the lawyer should set out in writing the nature, extent and scope of the services the lawyer will provide and how the client will be billed for those services.