The National Law Journal has an interesting story about “unbundling.” It’s described as a growing movement to allow lawyers to work on part of a matter, while the clients do the rest:
An unbundled lawyer might, for example, advise clients of their rights in a divorce, help clients fill out forms, confine court appearances to child custody issues, and review the judgment. Other than that, clients could be on their own, if they want to proceed that way.
Proponents see it as increasing access to the legal system; others see it as dangerous for individual clients who may not fully understand the scope of what they are in for. The ABA has a white paper on the subject.
Then a quote from law professor Ronald Staudt caught my eye:
“Our profession is client-centric, and if what the client wants is to pay less and only get pieces of service, we should give them what they want as long as it doesn’t cause an ethical breach.”
This insightful remark helped me see a parallel with trends in corporate legal services. Large law firm mergers are partially justified on offering full-service options to clients and cross-selling opportunities to partners.
At the same time, client GCs are going through the 2006 budget process right now and care most about controlling costs and delivering results. And to be clear: “controlling costs” equals lowering costs over time, not just slowing the rate of increase.
Part of the solution will be to unbundle corporate legal services: less-expensive lawyers or paralegals (whether in Peoria or Bangalore) doing only the highest tasks justifying their rates. The rest goes to non-legal staff, automation, or just gets “designed out” by an intelligent process review.
But “corporate law is different” some will say.
We’ll see. I expect news of initiatives to take the unbundling of corporate legal services to unheard-of levels in the coming months.
The only thing “different” about the law is the lawyers who think they are special.