I can’t afford a lawyer. How do unbundled legal services work?

When you’re involved in a legal dispute it might feel like your only options are to spend a lot of money to hire a lawyer or have no legal support at all. Unbundled legal services is an in-between solution for when you’re confident you can represent yourself in court but still need legal assistance preparing for certain aspects of your case.   

Unbundled legal services are designed to fit your needs and budget to help you get affordable legal assistance. You decide what tasks or areas you need assistance with and what parts you are confident you can handle on your own. There are two types of unbundled legal services, limited scope retainers and legal coaching.

How you pay depends on what you negotiate with the lawyer. It may be on an hourly rate with an estimate of the total cost but it can just as easily be based on a set fee. Either way, there should be no surprises regarding what you can expect to pay for the legal services provided.

For example:  If you want to sue somebody in Small Claims Court you can hire a lawyer to prepare your Statement of Claim. Once it is prepared the lawyer’s services are finished. If you feel comfortable preparing the Statement of Claim yourself, you may only want a consultation with a lawyer to review the document before you file it in court. In both cases you pay only for the consultation or specific drafting work.

Limited Scope Retainers 

Under a limited scope retainer, a lawyer provides services for part, but not all, of your legal matter. For example, you might hire a lawyer specifically to do one or more tasks:

  • Assist you with drafting documents
  • Help you to begin or respond to a case
  • Help you in a particular step in a case, such as a motion or case conference
  • Provide you with advice regarding the settlement of your case; or
  • Accompany you at a mediation hearing or meeting

Legal Coaching

Legal coaching is a fresh and creative type of unbundled legal service.  With legal coaching, the client is responsible for and in control of all the tasks and steps in their legal case; the lawyer provides advice, feedback and other support to help the client complete those tasks and steps.  You, as the client, prepare documents and represent yourself, but with the assistance of a legal coach "in the wings" who advises, educates and empowers you along the way.  You decide on how much time and assistance you need from the lawyer.

Family Law Limited Scope Services Project

The Family Law Limited Scope Services (FLLSS) Project  has been helping to improve access to justice for middle-income families in Ontario by increasing the availability of unbundled legal services in family law disputes. The FLLSS Project provides free access to an online directory of trained and experienced family law lawyers who are willing to provide unbundled family legal services.

The online directory provides information on how to obtain lawyers that support different languages like:.

  • Cantonese 
  • English 
  • German 
  • Italian 
  • Mandarin 
  • Portuguese 
  • Spanish 
  • Urdu

FamilyLawLSS.ca also provides easy-to-understand, step-by-step information on limited scope services and legal coaching in family law matters. The website is designed to:

  • Help you decide if limited scope services may be an option for you
  • Provide practical tools such as checklists, flowcharts and a guide on how to find and hire a lawyer who will provide limited scope services
  • Provide resources and referral information for family law services in Ontario.

Produced by: Family Law Limited Scope Services Project, Law Foundation of Ontario

For More Information:

  • Family Legal Issues - Information on what to do if you don't qualify for a lawyer from Legal Aid Ontario.
Last updated: February 3, 2021 4006468