July 06, 2005
Unbundled Legal Services
Posted by Christine Hurt

I was in a lower-income neighborhood in Milwaukee the other day and saw a billboard.  I don't remember the exact wording, but something along the lines of "We'll help you get started, then you are Pro Se."  I thought that this business plan was a positive one.  Many participants in our legal system cannot afford an attorney for a certain situation but need some sort of limited assistance.  We don't let legal assistants working alone to offer this assistance, either.  So, the market has an inefficiency in that there is an untapped demand for limited legal assistance.  I did not give much thought to whether that would be illegal.  I suppose a problem would arise if after the attorney bowed out, something went wrong and a court had to decide if the attorney were liable.

This National Law Journal article reports that several states are working to make just such an unbundling plainly legal.  (Wisconsin was not one of the states listed, however.)  The article explains that this would make legal services available not only to lower-income clients, but also middle-income clients that do not qualify for volunteer representation.  I'm sure most of us fall into that category.  We aren't indigent, but we would balk if we had to put down a $10k (or more) retainer, either. 

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