The Law Society of BC was the first law society in Canada to create policies to foster the unbundling of legal services to improve access to affordable legal services. 

Unbundling legal services, where a lawyer provides legal services for part of a client’s legal matter, allows clients to access more affordable legal services. It has the potential to remove barriers to access to justice for people who cannot afford a lawyer’s retainer, but need some legal help. Unbundling allows clients and lawyers to decide which tasks are performed by the client and which are performed by the lawyer.

Unbundled legal services are especially helpful to self-represented litigants, who often are not self-represented by choice, but are unable to afford to retain legal counsel. It remains very difficult for self-represented litigants to find a lawyer who offers unbundled services.

Resources for the public

Resources for lawyers

The Law Society encourages lawyers to learn about unbundled legal services and consider offering these services. See the following resources:

  • The Law Society worked with Mediate BC on its Family Unbundled Legal Services Project to develop a family law toolkit that includes sample retainer agreements, among other tools. The toolkit is now available on the Courthouse Libraries website.
  • If you are a family lawyer willing to provide unbundled legal services, apply to join the BC Family Unbundling Roster.
  • "Overcoming resistance to limited representation" - Read the story of self-represented litigant Jennifer Muller and her difficult custody battle, featured in the Benchers' Bulletin (Summer 2016).
  • CLE-TV: Limited Scope Retainers Webinar – This 2014 course explores the opportunities that unbundled legal services present to expand lawyers’ client base and improve the public's access to legal services. Presenters discuss practice and ethical issues, risk management and current research.
  • Practice resource: Preventing claims – Limited retainers/unbundling

Timeline

The Law Society has taken several steps over the years to facilitate the unbundling of legal services.

2017

The Law Society is currently liaising with Mediate BC to develop a roster of family law lawyers who would be prepared to provide unbundled legal services.


2016

The Law Society worked with Mediate BC on its Family Unbundled Legal Services Project to develop a family law toolkit that includes sample retainer agreements, among other tools. The toolkit is now available on the Courthouse Libraries website. The Family Unbundled Legal Services Project is the recipient of $60,000 from the access to justice fund the Law Society has established with the Law Foundation of BC.


2013

To address concerns lawyers have about unbundling, the Law Society made further changes to the Code of Professional Conduct for BC. For example, the amended Code requires that a lawyer specify, in writing, the nature, extent and scope of services to be provided. Fulfilling that requirement will go a long way toward ensuring lawyers and clients understand exactly what services are being contracted for, and warding off potential complaints.

The amendments to the Code also address concerns about potential conflicts of interest where a person is represented by a lawyer under a limited scope retainer. The changes make it easier for lawyers at medium- and large-sized firms to provide pro bono services at court-annexed and non-profit legal clinics, without inadvertently bringing their firm into a conflict of interest .


2008

The Law Society made unbundling possible with changes to the Law Society Rules. Benchers approved recommendations from the Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force that permit lawyers to offer limited scope legal services.