Risk Management Tips for Unbundled Services
Article Date: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Written By: Camille Stell
Every new year has its trends and buzz words. You may be surprised to know that the first “smartphone,” a mobile phone that contained other applications such as calendar, address book and email, was designed in 1992. The first device labeled as a “smartphone” was the Ericsson GS88 in 1997. In 2001, Palm, Inc. introduced the first smartphone that combined the features of a wireless phone and a “personal digital assistant” introducing another buzz word – the PDA. Fast forward to the release of the first Blackberry in 2002 and the iPhone which includes an App store (buzz word) which hit 10 billion downloads by January 2011.
Unbundled legal services is a buzz word we hear frequently, but lawyers have been unbundling their services for many years. The economic downturn of recent years has certainly pushed the term to the top of legal trend lists. Whatever the reason you are considering unbundling your legal services, here are a few tips for keeping you safe while keeping your clients satisfied.
Define the Scope of Representation
First, you want to use an engagement letter to define the scope of your services. In a family law matter, a client may not need help dividing their home and furnishings, but they want a lawyer involved with child custody and child support issues. In this case, you would want the engagement letter to outline not only what you are doing – child custody and support – but you would want language that would exclude the work you are not handling. A vague or poorly drafted engagement letter, or using the same form letter that you have always used, can help you avoid a “he said, she said” situation.
Update Your Engagement Letter
Continue to modify your agreement as the matter progresses. Your client may want to pay for additional services as they are able to make payments. For instance, if you agree to take on the appeal of a matter, make sure your engagement letter is updated to reflect the new service you have agreed to perform. You may be able to develop a form that works well in this situation, or you may elect to send an email to modify your agreement, but finding a standard procedure will be a protection for you and your client.
Stay Safe with a Checklist
It is important that your client has a clear understanding of the value he will be receiving with the unbundled services. Consider drafting a checklist for the client with the tasks you are performing and the tasks that the client will be performing. If you are providing any instructions for the client for the tasks they are performing, this is a good place to document the instructions so there are no questions later.
Document Additional Legal Advice
It is worth the effort to make sure that you have spoken with the client about the entire case before you consider unbundling your services. Whether the client asks you or not, you should advise the client of potential issues that arise even after you have completed your portion of the tasks. This will lessen the risk of a later claim that you failed to advise on a related issue. Even with a limited scope of representation, your having knowledge of the full picture is important.
Discuss the best ways to communicate, document your file and then follow through on any necessary communication. If you agreed to be available for in-person discussions, make sure you build that into your fee. If everything is going to be handled electronically, make sure the client is comfortable with this decision.
Do not attempt to provide unbundled services in areas of the law where you do not have any experience. While your representation is limited, you must be competent to handle the work.
Like smartphones, the concept of unbundled legal services is here to stay. Being aware of the risks will help you keep your clients happy and your practice safe.
For more information on unbundling legal services, including sample forms, visit www.lawyersmutualnc.com/risk-management resources/unbundling_legal_services
Camille Stell is the Director of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. With over 20 years of experience in the legal field, Camille has worked for law firms as a paralegal, legal recruiter and business developer. Contact Camille at 800.662.8843 or Camille@lawyersmutualnc.com.
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