Next week I will join Forrest “Woody” Mosten, Sue Talia, and Richard Granat for an ABA CLE webinar entitled “Unbundling in the 21st Century: Growing Your Practice with Limited Scope Representation.” I am most excited about the conclusion to this webinar where Mr. Mosten, the “grandfather” of unbundling, will discuss where he sees this delivery method going in the future.
Please join us if you are interested in this topic. Most virtual law practices implement some form of unbundled service delivery so it’s important to understand the ethics issues and best practices that go along with it. For example, below is an excerpt from my book, Limited Scope Legal Services: Unbundling and the Self-Help Client, that discusses some of the technology that may be used in unbundling.
Excerpt from Beginning of Chapter Seven: Using Technology to Unbundle Legal Services
NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN INTERNET technology have made it even more efficient for a law firm to offer unbundled legal services. A law firm can employ different forms of Web-based applications that can be delivered over the Internet, depending on how much it wants to automate the unbundling process for greater efficiency in delivery. These tools may be used to generate legal work product or to provide decision-making tools to guide and assist a lawyer working with a client’s case. Thanks to the cost-effectiveness of cloud-based applications, a wide variety of Web-based applications that support the unbundling of legal services, may be added to the budget of any law firm from a solo practice to a larger, multijurisdictional firm. Lawyers are creating entire web-based practices that focus completely on delivering unbundled services online.
Larger law firms are having customized technology solutions designed for the needs of their firm’s members to deliver services to their clients through secure firm portals. Other firms are taking baby steps into the practice of online delivery and are relying on these cloud-based applications on the side of their traditional practice management software to enhance their unbundling potential. Firms delivering unbundled legal services online are not in direct competition with online legal service companies providing only auto-generated legal forms, but instead offer an alternative to the traditional law firm model with an increasing variety of limited-scope services across practice areas.
Many of the applications used to unbundle legal services operate on software as a service (SaaS), one form of cloud computing.1 With SaaS, the tools and law office data are hosted by a third-party service. The technology provider most likely has a relationship with a hosting company that owns the data center that houses the servers storing the firm’s law office data. The benefit of this form of technology is that the cost of developing and maintaining a single software application for unbundling may be spread out over a larger number of users, making it accessible for any practitioner to afford and add to his or her law practice. Thus, a large capital investment by a solo or small law firm can be avoided and a mid-size to larger law firm can cut costs related to practice management systems.
Because of this flexibility, cloud computing will most likely continue to facilitate the delivery of unbundled legal services for years to come. New innovations in the delivery of unbundled legal services are on the horizon as more attorneys realize the potential of this technology.2 It may be used to create an unbundled client base and to deliver services in a more efficient and cost-effective manner that gives the attorney a competitive advantage over traditional firms that are not using these methods or meeting the consumer’s need for unbundled legal services.3 In this chapter, we will look at several methods of unbundling that rely on Internet-based technology and at a few emerging models of web-technology-driven delivery.
Document Assembly and Automation
Document-assembly and automation tools have been used by law firms for many years and probably are the first legal technology developed that greatly facilitated the unbundling of legal services. Some of the more wellknown products used by law firms include Hotdocs, Rapidocs, DealBuilder, Exari, and WhichDraft.4 These programs often use “intuitive” forms to collect information online directly from clients that are accessible through any web-browser. The client responds to the questions provided by the program and it prompts him or her with the next appropriate questions based on the previous response. The responses then are pulled into a template document which assembles the document instantly, creating a first draft for review and edit by the attorney. The lawyer may use the same legal form or even the same provisions with another client with a similar legal fact pattern without having to reinvent the wheel each time that particular legal document is required for an unbundled project. Accordingly, this reduces the amount of time that the lawyer may produce unbundled legal documents and assists in streamlining the delivery process for the unbundled offerings. More customized systems are emerging that focus on a specific legal process or practice area. For example, Koncision is a company that provides a document-assembly and automation tool specifically for confidentiality agreements.5 The tool is powered by software hosted by Contract Express, a company that produces a number of web-based document assembly tools.6 Koncision provides services that may be used to create unbundled contracts by either lawyers working for clients or by companies that may need to generate these documents on a regular basis.
Other products allow for comparisons of versions of documents and will filter a document based on the lawyer’s preference and usage of certain terms and provisions. This results in a final document that has the optimum language and that is cleaner than a template that may have been revised multiple times by a law firm with different clients.
Several other methods of document assembly and automation may be used in an unbundling practice. Forms created using document-assembly technology may be used in the client intake process for an unbundling project. A law firm could use the technology to design a questionnaire that the prospective client fills out online after registering on the law firm’s website or after following a link e-mailed to the client that sends the client to the application. The questions posed to the prospective client might walk him or her through the unbundling process through a series of questions while uncovering any collateral issues that surround the scope of the requested legal services. After providing this information, a completed client intake sheet then would be generated from the responses and provided to the firm for follow-up with the prospective client. However, if the prospective client responded to questions in the application that determined without a doubt based on the firm’s input into the system that the case was not appropriate for unbundling and required full-service representation or that the scope exceeded what the firm would be willing to unbundle, the system would allow the lawyer or other assistant in the firm to stop the intake of data at that point and to follow up with the client to inform him or her that it would not be possible to handle the representation. This would save both the firm and the prospective client the additional time and expense of scheduling an unnecessary meeting in person or over the phone or in a web conference to determine that the unbundling in this case was not appropriate. For the client the firm wants to proceed with, when a follow-up meeting is scheduled, most of the information needed to analyze and begin the project is available. …
1As with any form of law office technology, an attorney needs to carefully do his or her due diligence in researching the chosen technology solution and understanding the terms of the service level agreement (SLA). See generally NICOLE BLACK, CLOUD COMPUTING FOR LAWYERS, ABA/LPM Publishing, 2011; Courtney Kennaday, “Sample Questions to Ask Online Storage Vendors,” S.C. Bar (2006), available at http://www.scbar.org/public/files/docs/VendorQ.pdf (accessed Jan. 8, 2010); and the proposed N.C. State Bar Ethics Op. 7 (2010) (providing sample questions for attorneys to ask of third-party software vendors before subscribing to services).
2See generally Marc Lauritsen, Five Tips for Prospering in an Age of Legal Fee Deflation, TECHNOLAWYER, June 7, 2011, available at http://www.capstonepractice.com/deflation.pdf (last accessed Nov. 3, 2011).
3See generally William Hornsby, Improving the Delivery of Affordable Legal
Services Through the Internet: A Blueprint for the Shift to a Digital Paradigm, available at http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/ delivery/deltech.html (updated June 10, 2009) (accessed Dec. 30, 2010); and Ronald W. Staudt, All the Wild Possibilities: Technology that Attacks Barriers to Access to Justice, Loy. L.A. L. Rev.,. Vol. 42: 1117 (Summer 2009), available at http://llr.lls.edu/docs/42-4staudt.pdf (accessed Dec. 30, 2010); and RICHARD E. SUSSKIND, THE FUTURE OF LAW: FACING THE CHALLENGES OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, Oxford
Univ. Pr. (1996); and RICHARD E. SUSSKIND, THE END OF LAWYERS?: RETHINKING THE NATURE OF LEGAL SERVICES, Oxford Univ. Pr. (2008).