Benchers approve Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force report

The Benchers have approved a task force report containing 17 recommendations that will make it easier for lawyers to provide their clients with limited scope or “unbundled” legal services.

The recommendations address four main contexts for lawyer-client service: confidential drafting assistance; limited court appearance made as part of a limited scope retainer; legal information and advice provided as part of a limited scope retainer; and legal services provided at a court-annexed program or at a non-profit legal service program.

Created in March 2005 on the recommendation of the Access to Justice Committee, the Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force explored a wide range of solicitor-client and access to justice issues that arise when lawyers offer their clients the option of discrete, or limited scope, legal assistance instead of full legal representation on all aspects of a transaction, dispute or process.

The major public interest implication of unbundling or limiting the scope of legal services lies in the potential to increase access to justice for members of the public who otherwise might not be willing or able to obtain legal representation.

The task force’s consultations and research confirmed early on that limited scope or unbundled legal services are a fact of life in BC. As Chair, Carol Hickman said in briefing the Benchers on the result of task force consultation with members of the Cariboo Bar in September 2006, “We are very aware that considerable unbundled legal work is already being done in BC, and done well. While it’s important to examine how a more formalized approach to unbundling might contribute to greater access to justice in this province, it is also important not to disrupt what’s already working well.”

Consultation has been an ongoing and important element of the task force’s work. In May 2005, a facilitated consultation was held in Vancouver including representatives of the legal profession, the judiciary, government and community organizations. That session sought to determine which services BC lawyers currently unbundle, how and to whom those discrete services are offered, and which unbundled services are seen by community leaders as being most helpful to the public. Participants were also asked to identify risks, issues or challenges associated with unbundling, to consider whether there should be a broader unbundling of legal services and, if so, to suggest how that broader unbundling might look.

From its consultations and research the task force concluded that, while the demand for and provision of limited scope legal services have increased over the years, the rules that govern professional responsibility and the rules of court have not kept pace.

The task force report notes that “it is important that guidelines be established to help ensure limited scope legal services are enhancing, not hindering, access to justice.”

The task force made recommendations
regarding:

  • general professional conduct
  • confidential drafting assistance
  • communications
    • general
    • with limited scope partners
    • with the courts and other parties
    • with the client
  • conflicts of interest
  • education and transition

The report notes that while “there may not be a miracle cure for the ‘epidemic’ of self-represented litigants,” the task force believes that limited scope legal services can contribute to making legal representation more affordable, and can be “an important tool in enhancing meaningful access to justice.”

The Ethics Committee is working on draft amendments to the Law Society Rules and Professional Conduct Handbook for presentation to the Benchers in the coming months.

For the full text of the Report of the Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force, go to Publications and Forms / Reports at lawsociety.bc.ca.