What different types of legal representation can you hire a lawyer for?

Let’s start from biggest (and often most expensive) to the smallest (and likely more affordable).

Traditional a.k.a. Full-Scope General Representation 

  • Client pays a large retainer upfront (in family cases where you already have a court date set, you can expect to pay at least $5,000 initially)
  • Lawyer manages all aspects of the file
  • Client will be required to “top up” the retainer as funds are used up
  • Client may run out of money and is then left self-representing

Unbundled a.k.a. Limited Scope Representation

  • Client and lawyer define responsibilities and expectations at the outset i.e. you customize the list of legal services that will be provided
  • Lawyer may agree to help client with one step of the process or several and need to consider what is in the client’s best interest when determining which services to offer
  • Client maintains control of many aspects of matter as defined at the outset
  • Retainer (money paid to the lawyer at the outset to retain their service) is generally lower than a traditional retainer depending on the work required. Fees could be a fixed fee or based on an hourly rate
  • Client is able to budget for the legal services

Legal Coaching – fits within unbundled

  • Client and lawyer set times to meet and determine the cost of service at the outset
  • Client is able to budget for the legal services
  • Client maintains control and responsibility for all aspects of their legal matter

Self- Representation

  • Person remains responsible for all aspects of their case
  • Person must navigate the legal system on their own
  • A self-represented litigant may choose to hire a lawyer at any point


Example of the different types of legal representation

To further illustrate the different types of legal representation, I will use an analogy of yard maintenance.

If you hire a lawyer for a full-scope general retainer this is like hiring a yard maintenance crew to look after your lawn. The yard maintenance crew is responsible for everything and you pay them accordingly. Not everyone can afford this service.

If you are able to mow your lawn and do the general maintenance, but you struggle to do the more difficult tasks such as trim the tall trees, then you might hire an arborist to assist you once a year with the more difficult tasks. This is like hiring a limited scope or unbundled lawyer to assist you with a task that you are not comfortable doing on your own. You are still responsible for the overall maintenance of your yard, just like you would remain responsible for your legal matter. However, you get the assistance of a professional for the harder task and you budget accordingly to be able to pay for it when you need it.

If you maintain your yard by yourself, but you are unsure about a certain task, you might call someone to explain how to do that task. This would be like legal coaching. You manage and are responsible for your legal matter, but you call up a professional to discuss certain tasks when you need guidance. For example, if wasps build a nest in your lawn and you want to get rid of them, but you aren’t sure how, you could call a pesticide company and ask them how to handle the wasps and perhaps you purchase a product off them to get rid of the insects.

If you maintain your whole yard by yourself, this is like being self-represented. It can be overwhelming and time consuming. You are completely responsible for your yard just as you would be for your legal case. At any time, a self-represented litigant can reach out for legal advice and services such as unbundled services or legal coaching.   

If you would like to speak to a lawyer about your legal case, contact Step By Step Law for a consultation to see if unbundled legal services or legal coaching are a good fit for you. 

diagram of legal services

You can hire a lawyer on an unbundled or limited scope retainer to: draft agreements, organize disclosure documents, consult for advice, draft affidavits, attend court, attend mediation, negotiate, calculate support, prepare court documents, navigate the court system, conduct legal research, write an opinion letter, provide resources, review documents, provide legal coaching, etc.

This post is for informational purposes only. If you require legal advice, please contact a lawyer

Lawyer Jamie Fitzel facing camera and smiling

Written by Jamie Fitzel, family lawyer at Step By Step Law.

Last updated/reviewed on July 22, 2021.