Illinois, like many other states, sees a high number of self-represented litigants in its trial courts. Many people navigating the courts without help fall into the not-so-sweet spot of earning too much money to qualify for limited legal aid and pro bono resources, but not enough to hire a traditional lawyer. As a result, they’re faced with the daunting task of going to court with no assistance at all—a strain not only on litigants, who are often unfamiliar with the complex processes and tasks associated with pursuing a case in trial court, but on courts as well.

There are many solutions in play to address this prevalent issue. From the attorney side, limited scope representation—or unbundled legal services—allows attorneys to assist litigants with parts of a case, rather than the entire case from start to finish. This model of service delivery can drive down costs for litigants and give them more flexibility and control over their legal issues. To facilitate this access to justice solution, the Chicago Bar Foundation has put together a new toolkit for Illinois attorneys who would like to offer unbundled legal services to potential clients with civil matters in trial court.

The toolkit helps attorneys to determine whether or not a litigant is a good candidate for unbundling, providing questions such as Does the potential client have realistic expectations about their ability to handle all or parts of the case on their own? and Is the potential client capable of appearing independently in court? The toolkit also contains talking points for attorneys when discussing unbundling with potential clients, including the differences between limited scope representation and full representation, how tasks will be divided up between attorney and client, and how changes in scope of representation will be documented.

Other practical materials in the toolkit include:

  • An engagement agreement for legal services and disengagement letter for when the representation is complete
  • A notice of limited scope appearance and notice of withdrawal of limited scope appearance
  • Various court forms

Should a litigant be a good candidate for unbundling, attorneys can further utilize the toolkit to help with providing legal advice during a one-time consultation, drafting and/or reviewing documents for a self-represented litigant to file themselves, or coaching a self-represented litigant on presenting their case in court.

This toolkit is only one of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s recent efforts to promote unbundled legal services and, in doing so, increase access to justice. The Chicago Bar Foundation—along with IAALS, the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN)—are hosting Unbundled Legal Services in the New Normal, a three-day virtual conference focusing on the major hows and whys of supporting and implementing the practice of unbundled legal services both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

This three-day event will provide a forum for stakeholders to share their perspectives, get better insights into collaborative roles, and learn about best practices to advocate for unbundled legal services. The conference is free and CLE credits will be available. Register today in order to learn about how unbundling can transform law practices, courts, and outcomes for litigants.