A Comprehensive Breakdown of the Benefits and Ethical Considerations for Providing Unbundled Legal Services in Immigration and Family Law
Hello, and welcome to the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast. My name is Dave Aarons, and I’m the founder and CEO of Unbundled Attorney. In this podcast, we interview our unbundled attorneys, as well as the leading experts in the industry, to identify the best practices for converting leads into paying clients, and how to ethically and profitably deliver unbundled legal services, and other affordable options in your practice. To learn more about how our exclusive unbundled leads can help you grow your practice, visit our website at unbundledattorney.com.
Dave Aarons: We are really excited today because this is our 50th podcast episode for the Unbundled Attorney Mastermind.
Sou Bounlutay: Wow.
Dave Aarons: And so, to mark this special occasion, we thought it would be really a privilege to actually have a sit down with some of the attorneys we work with here. We have Sou Bounlutay, founder of Wise Woman Law, and Sunny Awla. How do you spell that?
Sunny Awla: Awla, kind of like owl with an A.
Dave Aarons: Awla.
Sunny Awla: Yes.
Dave Aarons: Awla, who is an unbundled attorney in the Newport Law group, an unbundled attorney that’s immigration services throughout the King County and Seattle Metro region. Again, an opportunity for you to meet them more in person, and have an open discussion. Sou’s been on our project in the past, in both roles. Once interviewed as a podcast guest, and then we switched chairs and she interviewed me for the podcast as well, so really pleased to have you joining us back on the show again. Thanks for taking the time. Sunny, we’re looking forward to chatting with you, too, and looking forward to hearing about your story, and our journey together. Thank you both for being here.
Sou Bounlutay: You’re welcome. Happy to be here, and happy to meet you.
Sunny Awla: To meet you, too, yes. And to you, finally.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, it’s awesome. This is part of what we’re most excited about, having the chance to sit down, and get to know each other, and create community, and more of a cooperative effort amidst both us in facilitating you guys as attorneys, but also for you guys to get to know each other and share some ideas. Glad that we could make it happen. Maybe just a good place for us to start, for those that haven’t heard your previous podcast episodes, and given that this is your first time on the show, maybe I can ask you both to give a bit of background on how you guys got your start in the practice of law, the focus area, and maybe what makes your firm unique, other than your shining selves?
Sunny Awla: I’ll let you.
Dave Aarons: Why don’t you start off, Sou?
Sou Bounlutay: Well, I have been doing this for a while. I started out wanting to be a trial lawyer, doing litigation work. Then almost a year ago, I branched out and decided to do family law, as well. I also do some immigration. Rebranded, completely redid my practice, and renamed it Wise Woman Law. The reason why I decided to do that at that time was, I was looking for ways to integrate my practice in a way that would be more consistent who I am, and really put my whole heart and soul out there, just kind of like, “Here it is.” That’s how I came up with Wise Woman Law. The purpose of Wise Woman, my purpose, I think my passion is really to help empower women.
There have been questions before like, “Okay, is that the only people you want to help?” So, that has always been an issue. My answer, of course not. I want to empower everybody, and even whether you’re a man or a woman, I think we’re all so connected. For example, you have sisters, you have wives, you have daughters. In a way, we are all connected, no matter what our gender is. But on a personal level, you can’t deny the fact that me being a woman, I would have more of a personal, that deep, deep connection to what it feels like to be a woman who, in whatever circumstance, would come along and feel disempowered. And so, I wanted to have my skill, and my passion to do what I can to help empower individuals like that.
Sunny Awla: I’ve been practicing for the last 10 years. I graduated school in Florida, and I worked with a bunch of different law firms, and I did a lot of volunteer work. I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years since I graduated.
Dave Aarons: What kind of volunteer work were you doing?
Sunny Awla: I volunteered with Northwest Immigration Project. I volunteered with the King County Bar Association and Jacksonville Legal Aid when I was first getting started. I noticed that there is a big demand for ethnic women and just people who can speak multiple languages in the area of immigration. It’s a very underrepresented group of people. There’s a lot of attorneys out there, there’s a lot of people who need to. There’s a large number of people who can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Spanish, but there is not a lot of people who speak Punjabi and Hindi. I am originally Canadian, but I had my own immigration process when I was coming here.
I came here as a student on an F1 visa, and my mom actually has dual citizenship, and waiting as an adult to get approved in order to get my green card to move here, and going through that process all on my own really spiked my interest. I also did a little bit of volunteer work with Amnesty International when I was in law school, and I did international moot court competitions because I was on the moot court team, so I came across a large number of people who were very underrepresented, and nobody was really listening to their stories. Especially when they were asylum seekers, people who were coming in under the VAWA Act, people who would come in, in good faith, get married, come here and they were being treated terribly by their spouses and other family members.
There was really no voice for them. They didn’t know who to talk to, they didn’t know where to go, and there was nowhere to help. I actually started a legal clinic with the temple here, locally, so that people could come in, and it’s once a month, and it’s in conjunction with the South Asian Bar Association, for people to be able to come in and actually have a conversation with an attorney, to get some legal advice, and get some legal help, and feel comfortable speaking in their language, which is important.
Dave Aarons: Do you have attorneys that will volunteer, and just come in one day a month, and people can come in and give advice, and get help with their paperwork?
Sunny Awla: Yeah, and read it. Sometimes you get a letter from the USCIS, and what USCIS does is, they will reject you, and then they will send you five additional pages of just law. People don’t know, what are you asking for? Then right at the end, it says you have 30 days. So they’re in a rush, and going in to speak to an attorney is really expensive, especially immigration attorneys. The thing with immigration law is that, if you agree to represent the client, for example, and they have a hearing, and you have to go in front of a judge, the immigration judges. For an attorney, for me, for example, I agreed to represent someone, and I charged him. I actually got him through our unbundled services.
I charged him a flat rate for that one day of representation, and it turned out the judge says, “You have to do all of these steps, and if you don’t, you have until March to do all of these steps.” The client didn’t, after that hearing, I couldn’t get a hold of him. I couldn’t find them, I couldn’t see him, and I couldn’t get out of his case because the judge wouldn’t let me go. That’s where you get stuck a little bit in immigration, because they won’t let you get out of the case, as an attorney, especially when it’s litigation.
Sou Bounlutay: I think that’s part of that. I also do litigation, deportation cases for immigration. I think that goes to why attorneys who do deportation cases charge so much because you’re not only taking on the case and representing the client but in terms of your responsibility and your legal liability as an attorney is so extensive. You’re dealing with federal law, and unlike the civil case, where you have, in the Superior Court, as an attorney, you don’t have a lot of freedom to go in and out of cases. The moment you put your notice of appearance, meaning saying that “I’m now the representation for this case in federal court, in an immigration federal case.” What happens is, in order for you to get out of it, you have to go through such an extensive process.
You have to go make sure that you filed correctly. You have to ask the judge’s permission to do so, and most of the time, judges do not like it when you try to withdraw. The attorney ends up taking so much responsibility for the case, especially with most clients, when they are in deportation, by the time they get there, there’s so much crisis in their life that having this pile on them, a lot of times they emotionally detach, or they get into a crisis mode and can’t really handle the responsibility of doing what is needed for their case in the first place. That’s different. That’s why it is so difficult to find immigration attorneys, let alone an immigration attorney that is familiar with your culture, that is familiar with your language. That’s a very difficult situation for everybody to be in.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, it is hard. I find that there’s a lot of people that appreciate that, that they can speak in their native language. There’s not that many. In Washington, here, I think there’s about, now, of course, the community is a lot bigger, but when I first started in Washington State, it was 2011. There was really like three immigration attorneys that could speak, that had the experience or the inclination to do immigration law that could actually speak the language properly, and they were so very busy.
When I started out, I would actually get a lot of offshoot of their business. People would call and they would say, “Well, that person is very busy, and they’re just not calling me back, and just said, I’m not going to take your case.” Even when I ended up doing some of those cases, they were easier cases, but some people just don’t. Some attorneys just don’t have the time, and they don’t want to do it, and they just will be rude to people.
Dave Aarons: Do you think it’s largely due to the degree that they know that if they get involved in those types of cases, it’s going to be a really serious investment of time?
Sou Bounlutay: It’s long, yeah. You have to be willing to take on almost a long-term, yeah. It takes, they’re so invested. You have to be so invested in that, and so …
Dave Aarons: One of the things about family law is, specifically as it relates to unbundling, is that it gives attorneys the capacity, and they’ve had the support from the Bar Associations and the ethics opinions to make it very clear that attorneys can now handle just pieces of the case, and through a limited appearance. There’s a lot of states now, like California, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts, where they actually have forms that say, “Notice of limited appearance,” that outlines the exact scope of whatever it is that they are covering, what they’re providing for that attorney, and what they’re not, as well.
That gives attorneys a lot of solace in knowing that they’re not going to get stuck in the event that things become more complicated, or they have the ability to limit the scope so that it gives them that flexibility of knowing that they can work with folks, without having to do the whole thing all at once, right?
Sou Bounlutay: Exactly. My experience with family law and I take on a lot more in terms of unbundling with family law, is that not only do you have the ability to do the limited scope of representation, but it appears that the court understands the concept a lot better, and it’s familiar. The moment, I’ve walked into hearings before where the moment that the court or the judge sees it’s limited, they will specifically even say, “Counsel, I notice that you’re here for a limited scope.”
Dave Aarons: Yes.
Sou Bounlutay: The amount of understanding of what it means to have a limited representation is not clear, so there is no misunderstanding, and everybody involved, I don’t have to always state what the limited scope is. But the fact that it’s limited, there is that understanding among all parties, the judge, and opposing counsel, that there is limitations here. With immigration law, I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as a limited scope representation, and that’s where it gets complicated. The moment that you come on, try to explain to the judge that it’s limited. I don’t think there’s, I don’t know if the law doesn’t support it, or the lack of being familiar with what unbundled does with immigration.
So, huge. There’s a very distinct distinction between how the court treats attorneys who take on those kinds of cases. It is much easier. There is that free flowing of access to family law.
Dave Aarons: Yes.
Sunny Awla: And other laws, actually. I know there’s civil litigation, and you can do limited scope representation.
Sou Bounlutay: Same thing.
Sunny Awla: In almost all matters, any type of litigation, a judge is okay with that.
Sou Bounlutay: You are dealing with, and I sympathize because I understand the struggle with that. It’s really higher, from the attorney’s perspective, it is a higher risk of representation.
Sunny Awla: And what becomes difficult sometimes is if you’ve only been practicing state-specific law, and you’re licensed in your own state, and you haven’t been able to do limited appearances such as in family law matters, and of course some states are more flexible than others. But when you have been doing that, if you get into immigration without understanding that it’s a federal law, and you decide to take on those kinds of cases. If you have a family law person who comes in, who needs you on a limited scope, or any other law, and you go into King County Superior Court with your limited representation notice of appearance, a judge isn’t going to balk at that. He’s going to think that that’s okay, but there is, of course, no such thing in immigration law.
Sou Bounlutay: That’s right.
Sunny Awla: That’s something that’s a key thing that attorneys need to understand. When you choose to do, even in bankruptcy it’s the same way. These are federal judges. Federal judges don’t like to get their dates changed. Federal judges are very strict.
Sou Bounlutay: More inflexible, yeah. It is very difficult. Even the filing process is different. Unless you do everything to the T, your paperwork gets rejected. You don’t even get before the court, and so that has been a source of frustration. But I think even then, I think you were mentioning how you try to provide unbundled services, even immigration stuff. Meaning doing the form preparation without representing the client. That’s more internal, right? That’s more internal working of, “Okay, this is what I’m willing to do.” Sometimes you just need the form filled out.
My office, I don’t even do that because the reason why I don’t do that is one, I don’t like the feeling that I’m just, in a way, a rubber stamper. Somebody who comes in to just do the work, and just fill out the forms. I really like the fact that if I’m going to do this, I want to be accountable. I will represent you because I know from my experience, no matter how carefully I monitor my staff’s work, or even my own work, there’s going to be, I may make a mistake in answering a question. I may make a mistake here and there. If I’m not on board, then when the mistake is discovered, which they will because you are dealing with so many forms a lot of times, then I can say, “Oh,” I can provide an explanation and accountability and say this is what happened, and we move forward.
Or when I double check before the hearing, or before the interview, then I can make sure that is remedied. That is fixed. So I don’t, but I see the need. I see the need of doing whatever you can at that time, for the people.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, and I think the USCS makes allowances for that. That’s specifically why they allow you to sign off as a preparer of the documents, so if you have any further questions, they contact you.
Sou Bounlutay: Exactly, yeah.
Sunny Awla: I feel like everybody has, especially with unbundled services, the clients that are online, looking for help, they are looking for something within a specific budget. I feel, when they come to me, I want to give them the best amount.
Dave Aarons: Most options, yeah.
Sunny Awla: Every time somebody comes, I don’t do free consultations, but the consultation that they pay me for, it’s $100. They get treated, they know everything when they leave my office. I think that, for me, that’s the most important thing. If they don’t come back, that’s fine, because my costs are covered, but they know what their process is. Because I have had people come with completely misconstrued information from all the free consultations that they get, and they don’t know what they’re doing, and now they’re in a worse position because they listened to that attorney and that attorney, and that attorney.
I think that in life, in general, you get what you pay for. And so, I definitely give them a full on explanation of everything that needs to be done. With immigration, it’s a lot easier if it’s affirmative immigration. If you’re just doing the forms, that’s okay.
Sou Bounlutay: Because you’re not dealing with the courts.
Sunny Awla: You’re not dealing with the courts, but when you are getting into the litigation aspect of it, it is very difficult. At the end of the day, you have to protect your own self, because you are liable. You are liable for your client’s actions when you start doing defensive immigration work. But for the limited scope, I think it’s great. I think it’s great way, as an attorney, to help people, and give them that support. Because when people come to me, they are scared. They don’t know the court documents, they don’t know the court process. They don’t. They’re scared that everybody that they’ve gone to is quoting them these crazy amounts.
To be able to come to me, and I can prepare forms for them for $1,000, instead of some other attorney where they had to go pay $3,000, and they just don’t have it. Being able to offer them a payment plan, that helps a lot of people out. I am, I don’t want to say, maybe it’s just altruistic, but I like helping people. I noticed through a lot of volunteer work that I’ve done, there are some people that really need attorneys. They need it. They need that help, they need that support system, and they really appreciate actually having someone who comes in, and they get value for the dollar that they spend. I always get, anybody who comes in and gives me that consultation, they will still come in, and they will say, “Hey, can you just read mine? I’ve done all the paperwork that you told me. Can you just read it for me, and I will pay you?”
You never lose somebody that way, and as an attorney yourself, if you are charging $100 or $150 for a consultation, what’s happening is you are giving them the best advice that you can possibly give, and you are giving them very good quality. Because I don’t like people to pay me for, just to take people’s money. If you are paying me, I want to give you a good service, and I want to give you information that is going to be helpful to you and help you in your process. I think that’s really important, to understand how you have to limit yourself, and what products and services you are selling, and what you’re helping people with.
Dave Aarons: It’s been interesting to hear kind of a contrast between how, as an unbundled attorney, you’re trying to be more creative in the way you’re working with people’s budget to give the most amount access to your services. People need help. Obviously, as you’re saying, there are people that maybe can’t qualify for legal aid or some other nonprofit support, or maybe it’s just not available in their locale or something, but they also can’t afford $3,000 to $5,000 up-front. That’s a common issue, of course, in family law, and many other areas of law, as well.
There’s this gap. There’s this ever-growing gap, which in family law in California courts, it’s something like 65% of clients are self-represented, and that’s been a big change, just in the last 10 to 15 years. Maybe what would be helpful is to, obviously, there are certain limitations in immigration that don’t exist in family law, but what you’re doing is still finding creative ways to work with clients, like offering doc preparation, or some attorneys have been offering pay-as-you-go. Maybe you guys can share some of the things you’ve done to still apply that creative, client-centered, solution-based approach to working within people’s budget, and somehow still getting the help that they need to get through these processes, given some of the constraints in the legislature.
Sou Bounlutay: I just want to take a moment to clarify in terms of immigration, because we were discussing a lot about the limitation of unbundling in immigration, and I don’t want to discourage that. I think it needs to make a very distinct. Unbundled service with immigration still works fantastic. The only limit is you have to make the distinction whether it’s litigation, or if it’s not litigation. If it’s litigation, meaning that you have to represent them in court for deportation and stuff, that doesn’t work as well, simply because …
Dave Aarons: You’re tied to the record, so you can’t limit the scope.
Sou Bounlutay: I’m tied for the record. Exactly. You can’t really limit it very well. But the majority of the people that come our way sometimes, it’s not because they are in deportation, it’s because they need help to fill out the forms with USCIS, or they’re going through the process of getting a green card.
Dave Aarons: Citizenship.
Sou Bounlutay: Citizenship, and that kind of stuff. In that circumstance, it works very well, because then we have room. For example, with Sunny, she can say, “You don’t need me to fully represent you, and go to the interview, and guide you through the whole process, but you need somebody to make sure that you can do it right, so you can get going in the process.” That’s fantastic, and you can say, depending on how expensive the work is, you can say, “Okay, instead of paying me between $3,000 to $5,000 for the whole process, I can do the preparation for you, for $1,200, for $1,500.”
When you break it down in little chunks, it’s not so financially overwhelming for people, because normally most people, for them to say, “Here’s $5,000, here’s $3,000” at one time, how many months of saving is that for them, right? Most people can’t afford that in real life. That’s the reality of what we live. Most of us can’t afford that. For them to do that, that means a mortgage payment, you know? It means their healthcare is not being met. Some sort of really necessary things that they need, day-to-day stuff. Under that circumstance, with the exception of litigation, unbundled works very well with immigration, as well as family law.
Sunny Awla: Also, just in addition to that, I’ve noticed that I don’t get too many people who are looking for litigation.
Sou Bounlutay: That’s right.
Sunny Awla: Which a lot of people are looking for, “I got married,” or, “I’m seeing someone,” or, “I want to bring my cousin.” Those are the people.
Dave Aarons: It’s probably less than 10%, I would say, or so of the leads that we see.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, I would say between 10% and 15%.
Dave Aarons: Is the litigation side relative to the family petitions, and the related stuff.
Sunny Awla: I’ve had, rarely do I get, I have had it, but I’ve had some people who will call and say, “Oh, somebody just arrested my boyfriend,” you know? Then at that point, that’s a litigation.
Sou Bounlutay: That’s litigation.
Sunny Awla: But more than anything, everybody is just curious. That’s why they go online. Somebody who is looking for a budget, they’re like, “Something needs to be done, I want my husband here, or my boyfriend here, or whatever. What can I do?” Or it’s students. Of course, students that were here who are between the ages of 20 and maybe 30, but generally it’s around 26, 27, those people are looking for something that is cheap, and what can I do to change my status? Or it’s J-1 au pairs, most of those people are affirmative. I do think, even with that little bit of litigation, even if you can’t take that case on, it’s not overwhelming for unbundling.
Because what’s happening with unbundled, it’s all just regular people who want to actually take that affirmative action instead of the defensive action.
Dave Aarons: Let’s take, because obviously when you have litigation cases, which as we’re saying, is more the minority of the types of leads you guys get, at least with a little attorney. I think, generally speaking, the vast majority of people that are going through the immigration process, I don’t know what the statistics are, but they’re general petitions, right? Filing for status, filing for citizenship and so forth. Especially with the new administration, people who otherwise used to be permanent residents or didn’t quite have status are saying, “Hey, I might want to secure this a little better, and go down the path of citizenship.”
Maybe we can talk about that at some point here before we wrap up, but maybe that would be helpful just to lay out some of the options within the family petitions of ways either you would provide a bundling, or for representation. Maybe get some examples of pay-as-you-go, payment plans types of approaches so that attorneys that maybe haven’t explored many of the creative approaches of working around people’s budgets. We might be able to get some ideas for ways that they can start to do that, to be able to continue to help more clients that maybe can’t do the full retainer up front, and still be able to serve them, but also still be able to do it profitably, too.
Sou Bounlutay: I love doing that bundle with family law.
Dave Aarons: With family law, yeah.
Sou Bounlutay: Even with litigation in that aspect, what I’m discovering with litigation is, clients will wait, and wait, and wait, and will try to resolve their family law case on their own, which is totally understandable because it costs so much. Then they realize, “Oh no, there is no way I can resolve this on my own,” and they maybe have a week. They get overwhelmed, they in a way disengage, and try to not deal with it. Then they realize they can’t run away from it, litigation is right in front of their face. And they will start panicking, and they will come to me.
Dave Aarons: That’s where panic sets in, huh?
Sou Bounlutay: Panic sets in, and I don’t know who is crazier, the client, or me, because when they come, “Oh, I have a week. I have three days. I’m on trial.” All these things are not being done, and even under that circumstance I will say, “Yep, I can do it unbundled.” Even though litigation. What I do then, at that point, is I look at their situation, and I can guess, after a while, after doing this for a while, and say “It’s going to take you three days for me to try your case. I calculate eight hours a day.” Then I just do a flat fee. “For me to try your case for these three days, here’s how much it’s going to cost.”
Most of the time, when they’re like, “Okay, I understand, I get it,” they’ll go with it, they’ll figure it out because they’ve tried their best to resolve it. They know that it’s going to cause them to resolve it, but they’ve tried, they’ve made an attempt. Now there is no other option but to move forward with this, and I actually love it. I actually love having clients come in the week before their case because then I don’t have to spend hours, and hours, and hours trying to do trial prep. Instead I just, in a way, I love winging it.
Dave Aarons: You do the best you can with what you’ve got, right?
Sou Bounlutay: Right. It’s still that way, and I think because of my background when you’re in a family law case, it’s a bench trial. I’ve been trained to do a jury trial, so the dynamic and the level of stress is not the same. For me, it’s much more manageable. I can literally just walk in the day before, I can walk in the hour before, and I can try your case because being trained as a trial lawyer in a jury trial, it’s transferable skills. I can use my skill to help the client who, if they did it themselves, have no skill whatsoever to try their case, to deal with the law, or even the trial process.
Dave Aarons: Would that be a notice of limited appearance, when you take things on more of a short notice like that?
Sou Bounlutay: Yeah, sometimes literally an hour before I walk into court and give the court, sometimes I don’t even have the time to do that. I will literally announce on record saying my limited appearance is to try the case, and the judge just goes, “Okay, counsel.” And I literally have the judge’s clerk running around trying to make copies, because my client obviously don’t know how to prepare their case for trial, and everybody just works with what they have, including the court, and the judge, understandably. They’re so grateful, at that moment.
Dave Aarons: Well, that client is still in a better position.
Sou Bounlutay: Exactly.
Dave Aarons: Even if they’re not as prepared as they’d like to be. If they’re on their own, they have much less of a chance to try to do it.
Sou Bounlutay: You can’t try your own case. There is just no way to do it. You need somebody to try your case. It’s either the attorney, or you don’t get to really try your case, because most of the time the other party that comes on, they have an attorney. There is no, no matter how knowledgeable you are, and how comfortable you are doing pro-se work on your own, there is no way you can advocate yourself, for yourself under that circumstance.
Dave Aarons: I can imagine that a lot of attorneys would look at that and be like, “I need at least this much time to prepare,” because they’re thinking about all of the contingencies, and everything they would want to make sure it’s perfectly in order, and dialed in, fully researched and everything, right? But at the same time, if I don’t do this, this person would be in a much worse position, right?
Sou Bounlutay: That’s exactly right.
Dave Aarons: That’s the concept that most of us have been talking about a lot. This is the underlying principle and philosophy of unbundled legal services. I think the judges agree with this. That client is better off having a little bit of help from an attorney.
Sou Bounlutay: Than no help.
Dave Aarons: Than no help at all, exactly.
Sou Bounlutay: Well, my position with that is, you’re a trial lawyer. You would agree, most attorneys would not take on a case an hour before a trial, okay? I’m one of the few.
Sunny Awla: I wouldn’t.
Sou Bounlutay: Right? To have opposing counsel say, “I have never done it in my 40 years of practice,” I mean, there’s a reason why. But my position on that is: because that issue is really not a client issue. That’s really about the attorney. All of the emotional stuff that comes into trying cases, whether it’s because it’s not because I can’t do a good job for the client. It might be because nobody likes to lose. The risk for that attorney to lose a case when you walk in an hour before, you know? There’s a fear factor because nobody likes to lose. I guess I’m one of the few that, I don’t know if I lose, I lose.
Because the fact is, I’d rather have the client, like you said, they are still better off with me on there, no matter what. Even if I fumble through it, even if I have to ask them every other sentence when their case is put on, “Do we have this? Do we have that?” It is better, at least with me on there, at least there is somebody there advocating for them. They have at least a voice to protect them.
Sunny Awla: Yeah.
Dave Aarons: We’re taking this, I think this would probably be the most extreme example, but in the sense of, it’s an hour before, are you better off? But we can take that and look at it from all facets of providing. Are they better off with just a consultation, with just an hour or two of coaching? At any phase in the process. Are they better off just having someone just draft some documents for them, and make sure they don’t make procedural errors because everything is in legalese, and they don’t fully understand how to fill it out? Once it’s filed, what happens? Is there a deadline? When I go to court, who is going to talk?
Just understanding even the basics. Even if that was all you could provide, that would still put the person in a better position, right? And so, it kind of threads through all the different unbundled services you might provide at any different level of the process, from an hour before court, all the way back to just helping someone better understand what is going to be the process when they file those documents in the court, and what’s going to happen next? And how to respond, and just giving them the basic understandings that a lot of attorneys just sometimes can easily take for granted, just because they’re doing it every day, of understanding what to expect.
Sou Bounlutay: I think the key thing that I’m hearing from you that is really critical, and I think that with Sunny and I, why we do this, is access. The majority of the people out there do not have access, and having access to legal help, or even just access to the judicial system is a privilege. What we’re seeing is that we recognize that it is a privilege, and we want to give it to everybody. It should be a right. This is the kind of access that, when you live in some places like we do in the US, that it shouldn’t be given to the few, and that those who have the ability to give access should do whatever they can to give that, to serve that. This is really the power of accessing a system that, for the longest time, unless you had the money, and the resource, you can’t have access to, and the harm that it has been causing those who lack the access.
Dave Aarons: What’s fortunate nowadays is, we now have the support of the courts, of the Bar Associations, especially in family law, and to certain limitations, within immigration and some areas of law. But especially family law, it’s one of the most underserved areas of law right now, the support is there. The ethics opinions are there, and so at this point it really is just an education, awareness and understanding of how to deliver these services effectively, and so maybe we could talk a bit about, what are some of the things that you’ve implemented in your practice to be able to provide unbundled services efficiently?
What are some of the things that, to attorneys that are newer, who are providing these options to say, “Hey, I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people. Yeah, I want to make some money, too.” How do you do both? How do you serve a lot of clients, and also build a very profitable practice? Because that’s what both of you have accomplished.
Sunny Awla: We’re still a business at the end, right?
Dave Aarons: Yeah, we have hundreds of attorneys on this plan.
Sunny Awla: We can be as nice as we want to be, but yeah. I know for me, I haven’t ever thought about unbundled services until actually Graham reached out to me. I thought, “Okay, this is fine, let’s try it.” One of the first things that I did was, I came up with my spiel of what I’m going to say to the clients, and how much time I’m going to give to them before having them come in. In the beginning, I was spending two hours on the phone with people sometimes, because I didn’t know how to do this, you know? It’s always hit or miss.
You will come up with your own strategy of how long you are going to take, and invest in that phone call to have them come in, because your time is also money, and you have to treat it like a business. If it’s costing you X amount of dollars to get a lead, and then you’re spending an hour of your time, that lead is costing you $150. If you’re only charging $100 for a consultation, you’re not really making your costs up. You always have to know exactly how much time something is going to cost you. In fact, unbundled services, for me, I have a boutique firm.
So, I do a lot of civil litigation. I do bankruptcies, I do wills and estates, I do real estate, and I do evictions, and I do, of course, immigration. What I started doing was, I actually made lists of, what are the different types of things that people are looking for? I have, for example, I tell them, if somebody comes to me, and let’s say they’re initiating a divorce. I can tell them all the documents that they are going to need, and I tell them what they need in that consultation. Then if they decide to go forward and want actual representation, I have a list.
This is how much it’s going to cost to draft your initial documents. This is how much it’s going to cost if you want me to represent you in this. I think that’s key. In any business that you’re doing as an attorney, you need to know the basic stuff of what needs to be done, and how much time is it going to take me? How can I break off each piece of that? If you want to file for a spouse, you need to file an I-130 and adjustment of status. If you only want me to do the I-130, I will do that for X dollars. If you want me to do the adjustment of status, I could do the I-485, it’s going to cost you X.
Or I could do the full package, it’ll cost you X. The same thing with the divorce. If you want me to do just your initial petition, and all the documents associated with that, it’s going to cost X. If you have a child, and now I need to do a parenting plan, it’s X. Some people have come to me with, after they filed their divorce, and they didn’t file any kind of a parenting plan. Now they’re fighting over their kids, so all I really need, and they need help with someone, too. The courts rejected everything, and so they need help with the proper parenting plan. I think it’s important to break down whatever area of law.
For my evictions, for landlords, when they come to me, I charge a flat fee to go put on the three day notice. Then I charge a flat fee for an order to show cause, and I charge a flat fee for it. This way, it makes it clear to the client as well, because when the client is looking, they’re saying, “Okay, I only need you to do this.” They feel more in control. They feel like, “This could fit within my budget, and it’s not so bad.” That client that will come in usually goes, “I’m only going to do the $500 one.” After they pay the $500, they’re like, “Well, I kind of want you to hold my hand a little bit more,” and they’ll pay you more. That $500 can add up to $5,000 really quick.
Dave Aarons: Yeah, but they’re also paying you as you’re delivering each service, so your account receivable is basically zero. It should be 100%, right?
Sunny Awla: Yeah, and it’s really nice because generally, I find that most people that come to an attorney that are working with a budget, if they feel like they’re getting a good value for their dollar, you’ll always get paid. But they need to know what they’re paying for, and most people don’t know what they’re paying for. They don’t know the law. Nobody, I could say adjustment of status package, but people aren’t going to know what that is, you know? Once I break it down for them, then they understand the amount of work that goes into it, and the value for their dollar, and the fact that there are people like that, because they gain an understanding of what the attorney is actually doing, and they don’t feel so bad paying you.
I think that’s what it is, at the end of the day. Every single thing, you should have a sheet. Break it down to the most minute detail, and that, I find has really helped me a lot. That actually came about after I first, when I first started with unbundled, I started with the family law. Then I think we added on the immigration, and that’s what, I did that for the family law. I did that for the immigration, and in other advertising that I do, I still will advertise just a flat rate divorce, and I have a breakdown.
That, I find is really easy. Give them a cost sheet. I mean, I don’t have it on the website, but I have it there for them to take a look at, which is really, I think that helps people out a lot. I think it’s a very practical way for the guy who works nine to five, or the woman who is a single mom and was working nine to five, and doesn’t have time. I also offer evening and weekend appointments too, by the way, because I think that’s key, as well, with people. They need that flexibility. A lot of people can’t make it nine to five, especially people who are on a budget. They don’t want to take the time off of work.
They’ll be like, “Oh, I have an appointment with the lawyer,” so they’ll move their whole schedule around. But at the end of the day, I think the easier we make it for them, and the clearer we make it for them, the better business it is for us.
Dave Aarons: The lower the initial financial barrier. Right.
Sunny Awla: I’ve had people who have come to me for a consultation through unbundled, and they like the consultation. Even though they didn’t need me, they sent me other people. So I make additional consultation fees, and I’ve had people who have shown up, potential clients who have shown up with that same price list that I give to people. I think that’s really helpful. People want that, and you don’t see that. You can’t go on an attorney’s website and know exactly how much it’s going to cost to do something. There’s not too many law firms that do that. They just want you to call, and that’s where people get, or feel like they get ripped off a little bit, I guess.
Dave Aarons: I think you’ve raised a really critical point, that I think any attorney that’s likely to implement unbundled legal services, or offer more creative and flexible solutions needs to take the time to do, which is to actually quantify each specific aspect of a case, but mostly we’re talking about the horizontal plane is, from point A, here’s all the tasks that need to be accomplished. File the petition. Prepare the documents, then you’ll deal with any responses, right? And you have the appearance, and then you have mediation. There’s these phases of the process that can all be broken down, and then quantified to figure out, how much time does it take to do each phase?
Then depending on where clients come to you with wherever they’re at in the phase, you can also focus specifically on what that next phase is, and allow the client to get an opportunity to work with you, just for that next segment. That’s really what they’re focused on right now. You don’t have to come up with the money for the whole rest of the case. They can just deal with this, and then like you said, people can afford that, but also once they’ve had all that, and they’ve had an opportunity to work with you, they get a feel for the types of services you can provide, and obviously you’ve developed some rapport there, then obviously a lot of them will come back and retain for the next, or the next.
Or even just say, “Hey, you know what? I’m realizing I may be a little bit over my head here,” and find a way to come up with the rest for the full presentation, or work out a payment arrangement and so forth. For attorneys that take the time to quantify what each step of the process is going to take as far as time, and obviously perhaps even charging a flat rate for each phase, right? Because then you can start to build in some efficiencies, some technology in order to streamline it. Maybe that will be a separate topic we can cover if we have time, but if you’re doing it as a flat rate, you can obviously build a little bit more effective hourly rate in there, like a higher effective hourly rate by having staff and so forth.
Just being able to look at things, one phase at a time, so that people can afford it, and it’s accessible. That’s something that really attorneys need to take the time to do.
Sunny Awla: The problem with flat rate is, sometimes what happens with flat rate is, you’ll end up making 10 bucks an hour, you know what I mean? Sometimes with flat rate, you will walk away, and you will make a good amount. You will make your fee.
Dave Aarons: Or even more, right? If you have efficiency there.
Sunny Awla: That is a little bit of that which shies some attorneys away, but at the end of the day, you are helping somebody out. And if they have a little bit more paperwork, it shouldn’t be something that’s so overwhelming for you as an attorney, because if you are doing your job right, you will be able to do what needs to be done in order to service that client properly. I think it’s very key to know what your skill set is, what you are doing. Don’t say, “I’m an immigration attorney, and I do affirmative petitions,” and then you don’t know the difference between, or you have to keep up with the law.
You need to know what needs to be filed, and what the deadlines are. That’s the key thing, is you need to know exactly what the process is, so you can have a conversation with somebody, and explain to them how to go through their divorce, or how to set up probate, or how to draft a will. All of these things, it’s very key for you, as an attorney, to know what you’re practicing. It’s not something for the fainthearted, if you’re going to take trials three days before the date.
Dave Aarons: Fair enough.
Sunny Awla: You can’t. You’re special.
Sou Bounlutay: You know what? I’ve heard that before.
Sunny Awla: I’ve got to say, that’s amazing. That must be said a lot. That’s hard.
Sou Bounlutay: I know I’m special.
Sunny Awla: That’s a very specific, that’s rare. That doesn’t happen. People generally who are looking, and go through unbundled services are people who are working with a limited budget, and who don’t really know what to do. Your job is to give it to them in a reasonable manner, and you need to know what to do, and how much time it’s going to cost you, and how much money you want to make off of it. It’s very important to have a breakdown, even if it’s for your own personal self, where you’re not giving that information to the client, you need to know yourself how much time you are willing to invest in something, and how much you are going to charge people. Because otherwise, we’re all running a business, you know? That’s important.
Sou Bounlutay: Well, I’m special.
Dave Aarons: I’m glad we’ve established that.
Sou Bounlutay: So I do it kind of, a little differently.
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Sou Bounlutay: Maybe not so different, but my experience in dealing with unbundled claims have been, more what I’ve discovered, it’s not so much about the money, but it’s about establishing this, beyond the surface trust with your attorney. Most clients who come in, they realize, because they know what it’s like to be in real life. That there is a cost to everything. The issue they have, I think is not so much paying you what you’re worth, but it’s the ability to trust you enough that you’re going to do it, that you’re not out there, and that you’re not the general perception or stereotype of attorney who’s going to basically, just take their money and not really care for them.
What I’ve discovered is the moment that you connect with the client and really tell them what the truth is about their case, or just be real with them, then I can literally tell them, at the end of the day, this is how much it’s going to cost you. We can help, or I can help. I understand how hard it is, and I can help you by breaking it down. Usually, 90% of the time, it works. I don’t think for me, with my experience, I don’t think it’s so much the money issue as whether, if I give you this much, because I work so hard for my money, how do I trust that you really are going to care for me?
How do I trust that I’m not just going to be a number to you? That whether I win or lose, or the consequence of me losing this hearing or that hearing really has no significance for you. That I’m just a customer, somebody that you are here. That I’m here to support your lifestyle. The moment that you take that away, then you can have a real deep conversation and say, “You know what? For me to do this, and to get the outcome that I know I can for you, here’s how much it’s going to cost us. Here’s how much it’s going to cost you.”
Then somehow, they’re going to be honest with me and say, “You know what? I have this much to spend. To make it work, I can get a family support. I can get a third party to support me.” What they really want is, I just need to know that you’re really behind me, that you’re not going to be like the second attorney that I spoke with a while ago, that took on my case and I felt completely abandoned. That somehow there’s this process, once again, rather than feeling empowered by this process, I just feel like I got taken advantage of. I need to know that you’re one of the few exceptions. That you’re not going to take advantage of me, because I’m in a position where I have no power, and the only person I can rely on is you right now.
How do I know that I can trust you? I think that’s why, and when I take those cases to trial, the one that, it’s not cheap. Because that’s three, four days, solid out of my days. To do those kind of cases, I do ask for, right up front, “I need from you $7,000 to $10,000.”
Dave Aarons: Because there’s no time for you to be more flexible around that.
Sou Bounlutay: I need the time, and I explain to them, “My general hourly rate is, and here’s how much each day, without any prep time, that I’m going to be in court for your case.” I think there’s that psychological connectedness that, they know. They know. People are so emotionally intelligent. They know when you connect with them, and are telling them the truth. What’s more, they know if you truly love them, that you’re going to help love them through this process, and this crisis that they found themselves in. I think once we get through that, then we can talk about the practical matter, and I can be honest, and I’ve said this to the client.
I say, “For me to do this work, I know it’s going to sound like a lot of money, but what I need, I need to know that I need to be taken care of as well. For me to do a good job, and to feel like I’m also taken care of, this is how much I need from you, in terms of cost-wise.” Generally, I think generally we connect, and we get it. Then also, for me I don’t have. I wish I could be more practical. I think I’m learning so much from you of being practical, but in terms of costs…
Sunny Awla: That’s why I don’t do too much. It’s too much connection required.
Sou Bounlutay: Yeah. That’s how I’ve been able to do it, but of course, also keep in mind I know. I’ve been doing this long enough to know, in reality, how much it’s going to, in terms of time-wise. So I gauge that, but I don’t break it down to a specific, as she does. But I think sometimes it would help me that I should integrate that.
Sunny Awla: I think with unbundled, it helps. Of course my unbundled, I just use immigration, and a lot of the people that come to me are landlords and things like that. I have found that it has really helped me out, because I like the limited scope representation. I think it’s a great way to have your legal practice without having the stresses. Because to me, going to trial and preparing for trial in three days is highly stressful. I think it’s highly stressful for a lot of attorneys. This is a skill set that you have, and that’s great, that our state allows that limited representation. But in general, most people aren’t litigators.
Litigators are generally more expensive anyways, and for me, I just like the practicality of it, because when you’re dealing with businessmen, and you’re dealing in immigration, you want to see the bottom line.
Sou Bounlutay: You want to see the bottom line.
Sunny Awla: You want to know the numbers.
Sou Bounlutay: It’s the bottom line, right?
Sunny Awla: As an attorney, I think a lot of people, and I’ve heard this complaint a lot of times with attorneys. You hire an attorney, you pay them the $5,000 or the $10,000 retainer, and then you get a bill in a month. And the bill is for every single phone call that you’ve made. I like flat rate service. I like that, because what happens is, when somebody pays me, especially in my litigation work that I do, I do charge for every phone call. Because even if I charge you 15 minutes, but I was only on the phone with opposing counsel for five, I also had to open up your file, and get familiar with everything, and check my emails, and make sure everything is right, and I don’t see anything wrong, and it takes a lot of time in order to do that.
Litigation, in and of itself, is very expensive, but when it’s, people who come to me through unbundled are really just regular people who don’t know what’s going on. I don’t get too much immigration litigation. I get, like I said, 10% to 15%. Mostly, it’s people saying, “I don’t know what to do. How much is it going to cost me? How much are you going to charge me?” Even when I’m looking for certain things online, I want to know how much it is. When I’m ordering something on Amazon, I’m checking to see, what am I going to get on my Prime membership, and how quickly am I going to get it?
I think all of us operate that way. We go out there, and we try to find what works within our budget. I also think that people who come to me through unbundled are not very experienced, legally, themselves. They haven’t dealt with attorneys before. They don’t know the legal system. So, what they’re looking for is that little bit of guidance, which I feel $100 for a consultation with an attorney is very reasonable, and it really helps them out. Because then they realize either, “I can’t do anything,” or, “I can do something. This is what I can do, and here’s how much it’s going to cost me.” That’s the model.
As soon as I call, so many people I call back, and the first thing they ask is, “How much is it going to cost me for X?” I have found that it’s best to, and when they ask me that, my main thing. That’s the one thing, just calling your leads back and talking to them. You will find a lot of these leads will, they want to know right away, “How much is it going to cost me, and how can I fix it?” You can’t give legal advice that way. Legal advice is, I always say to them, first what I do is, I listen to what they have to say, and I of course check my lead, and I listen to what details are included in that lead.
I will listen to what they have to say, and I say, “Look, I recommend coming for a consultation. Let me take a look at everything, so I can properly advise you instead of just saying something off the cuff. Because I don’t want you to take action on my words, and you are in a worse position, so come in. Spend that money and actually learn what you need to learn about your case.” I do it. There were months when I first started, when my business was just doing consultations, and that’s all I was doing with unbundled. One month, I actually had 100% of people who came in for a consultation.
I may not have been retained by all those 100%, but they came in to learn what happened, how to resolve their situation. I think that that’s really key. They want to know how much, and what’s going on, and “What can I do? Can I do something?”
Dave Aarons: I think we’re addressing an underlying thing. I think what you are getting at, people have natural inhibition about meeting with an attorney. There is an inherent distrust, or at least lack of understanding that puts them in a vulnerable position, especially when they’re handing over the reins to someone else, to help them with something that’s so important to them, whether it be the rights to their children, or their ability to become residents of this country. There’s inherently a lot of control that you’re giving up in order to make that happen.
And so, by your means of communication, and instilling that, and coming from that space in the heart, and by your means of making it very simple for them to take a first step, and get an opportunity to work with you, and sit down with you, without ever being a financial barrier. And even just to get started, when they only have to commit to one phase of it, on the horizontal. It gives them an opportunity to get to know you, and to get more comfortable, knowing that you’re on their side, and giving you the opportunity to work with them, to communicate with them. We had Anthony Sanders on the podcast a few episodes ago, I think the episode was called The Try It Before You Buy It Enrollment Strategy.
What he talked about is, he basically refuses to enroll anyone into his services for full representation right away. He won’t take the full retainer right up front. He will only start with the unbundled services first, and he says, “Try out my services. Get to know who I am. Get to know how we can help you.” Then once you have an opportunity to experience the work we can do for you, then you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to continue moving forward. I think it’s the same philosophy in your approach, in your mitigation, and your option is to give people the opportunity to feel comfortable, and know that you can help them.
Without having them make such huge decisions, because it’s already so much is on the line, just with their case, that just having to make a huge decision financially just makes it so much harder for people to do that, and a lot of people just can’t. But once they know that you’re on their side, and you’ve got their back, and that you’re an advocate for them, people are pretty resourceful. They can find the resources they need. They can get the support they need, when they know they’ve got someone that’s behind them that can help them.
Sou Bounlutay: Now, I love that concept. I love the concept of try it out, try me out first, then invest in me. I think that idea is a fantastic idea, because also it’s just not them trying you out, it’s also them.
Dave Aarons: You try them out, yeah.
Sou Bounlutay: It’s also me trying to figure out, because the key of doing a good job, for me, because I don’t want it to just, this work that I do is not just work. It’s not something that I do just to get done, I feel like for me, I want to do something with it more. I want to make it purposeful. I want to be impactful, and I recognize that with my personality, and my skill, I’m not going to fit everybody. And so, the key for me to doing this long term, and for my happiness as well as for those I serve, is to make sure that we’re a match.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. That’s in alignment of your brand, right? That’s really what you were grounding in, “This is who I’m standing for,” and getting clear enough for yourself, and also for your clients, and getting that match.
Sou Bounlutay: Exactly. That’s why unbundled service, we were giving, in this conversation, it’s like two different styles, and it works for you.
Dave Aarons: Sure. The same underlying philosophy, and the same underlying purpose.
Sou Bounlutay: Exactly. The thing that I really appreciate, and recognize how fantastic unbundled service is, that no matter where you’re coming from as an attorney, no matter what paradigm that you’re working with, whether it’s more the old school, “Give me the retainer,” because you’ve been working, or interning with a bigger law firm, that’s how you’re taught. What unbundled service allows us to do is to try things out in a way, at a pace that’s more true to us. She’s comfortable with more practical, and her clients are going to want to have her, and need her to be like that, because that’s what makes sense to them.
I, on the other hand, have a completely different approach, but those clients that come to me are going to need me to be that way. The flexibility, however this works, is wonderful. Unbundled service, it’s a different paradigm shift. It’s a different paradigm way of practicing that is not familiar, and it may be uncomfortable because it’s a new paradigm. Any time you do something different, before it becomes comfortable, you have to be so freaking uncomfortable first, right?
Dave Aarons: Yeah.
Sou Bounlutay: In the past, it’s really comfortable when you’re working for the law firm, with everything established, and as an attorney, all you do, the will that you take is do the job. You do the legal work. The firm has established all the foundation that you need, the marketing, bringing on the clients, the billing, whatever is already established. All you can do as an attorney is be an attorney. The role, when you’re a sole practitioner, or you’re a small business owner, is you no longer can afford to work in that paradigm. You have to take on the role of anything and everything, but in order for you to survive, you have to do it, and come from the space that’s honest to you.
Otherwise, it won’t work, and unbundled service gives you the ability to try out something completely different. It’s not one of those where it’s so earth shaking that, if you do it wrong, or you can’t figure it out, it’s going to create a crisis. There is so much flexibility to have to do this. There’s so many ways, and so many models. The creativity. The moment you become real, and true, the space to be creative is boundless. That’s what we’re talking about. Sunny has been able to figure out and say, “Oh, this is what I want to do.”
Sunny Awla: It makes it fun. I think it’s fun.
Sou Bounlutay: Yes, because you’re experimenting, right?
Sunny Awla: Yeah.
Sou Bounlutay: Because you’re experimenting, you’re learning, you’re creating.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, you’re definitely creative, creativity. It’s not as stressful. The job of an attorney is highly, highly stressful. I’m sure the level of stress that you’ve experienced, if you take a trial on at the last minute, compared to being there from the inception all the way to the end of the trial, it’s a different level of stress. The amount of stress that you get when you are fully responsible for every single detail, not only does your liability increase, but your stress level is high. You’re thinking about that case all the time. The typical training in an attorney is, you start from A, and you’re taking it all the way to zed. I mean Z.
Sou Bounlutay: You meant zed.
Dave Aarons: The Canadian influence sneaks up, eh?
Sunny Awla: But you have to do all of these things, and when you only have to come in when you’re at the Y, and then you’re right at the Z, that’s okay. Or if you only have to do the B, that’s okay.
Dave Aarons: That’s right, yeah.
Sunny Awla: And the stress level, this is a thing with a lot of Bar Associations offer programs for attorneys, because attorneys are notoriously having a lot of issues in terms of alcoholism and addiction issues, and problems with their families. It comes from that degree of stress. In order to alleviate that, this is one way that you can do that. You offer limited scope representation, and your liability decreases. The stress decreases, because once you’re done with the hearing, and you file your motion for summary judgment, and you argue it, you’re done.
The motion for summary judgment takes you maybe a month to write up, you get your date, you file it, 30 days later you argue it, and you’re done. That’s only a 60 day worth of stress on a trial level instead of an entire year, which is how long it takes, generally, from the inception until the end of the lawsuit. So that’s one thing that is really helpful, and many attorneys are trained in a completely different manner. When somebody is more, let’s say old school, and they’ve been practicing for about 20, 25 years, they don’t know how to get out of that mentality.
This is a perfect way to get out of it. Do the limited scope representation. Your liability decreases, your stress decreases, and I, of course, do it more on a practical level, because for me, I think depending on, I’m not going to connect with somebody who I’m just going to go represent for one minute. Because what’s going to happen, if I take your approach, what’s going to happen is, not only is it going to stress me out, but I actually have people who will constantly call me after that, because at that point, yeah, they’re depending on you, and they want to ask your advice, and they value your opinion.
But what ends up happening is, you’re thinking about their case all the time. If they’re calling you and you just give them, like I said, an off-the-cuff remark on the phone and say, “No, you shouldn’t do that,” and they act on that, now they trust you. You’re that person, to them, that’s the authority on that subject. It makes it really hard to disengage, once they do that. Then you have to say, “Look, I need you to come in, and I need you to pay me more, and actually properly hire me, and sign a retainer agreement to that effect.” Generally, I just find that people are, for me, as an attorney myself, there’s just not a lot of stress involved.
I could do 10 consultations. Well, not 10, but five consultations in a day. That’s maybe five hours of my day. I’ve made some money, I’ve hopefully signed a retainer, but the rest of the people aren’t going to affect me psychologically, in terms of what I’m going to do for the rest of my day. I like that aspect of it. I like that, not too stressful aspect.
Dave Aarons: This is one of the joys of this podcast, has been that we now have 50 episodes, with 50 different attorneys, all having their unique approach to the same challenge of, how do we impact the accessibility of legal services? How do we make it more affordable? How do we give people confidence, and their willingness to move forward, and to know that they have somebody that’s behind them, right? There’s really specific guidelines that every attorney has to follow when it comes to unbundled services. Yeah, you have to be expressive of the scope of the services that you’re providing. You have to also be clear when someone needs to modify or change the process.
There are certain guidelines, but there’s so many different ways to do it. It can be in person, it can be hour by hour, it can be one flat rate. Some attorneys are self-proclaimed horse and buggy type approach, where it’s just written documents, writing it down. Others have streamlined, automated technological systems in place, all in the cloud, with the latest legal practice technology that streamlines the whole process. It’s all electronically from the button, right? But at the same time, everyone is approaching it from whatever makes the most sense for them, and it’s the way in which they want to interface with their clients.
At the end of the day, we’re all accomplishing the same goal, which is getting more people legal services in this country that otherwise would be unable to afford or access it, without it.
Sou Bounlutay: As Sunny was speaking, what came to my mind was, our focus has been, in terms of providing unbundled service, is to provide it basically on individualized need for the client. It just dawned on me, you know what? Any time you give, it’s not just about the person you’re giving to, it’s also about us. It just dawned on me that what unbundled service does for the attorney, and instead of unbundled, maybe it should be thought of as individualized practice. It allows the attorney to really fit and work the case that is specifically tailored to them, at whatever capacity that they want to get involved in.
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Sou Bounlutay: But it’s also very uncomfortable, because not everybody, it doesn’t have that predictability of, “I’m going to sign you up for A, and then I’m going to be in charge of A, B, C, D.” It requires different types of personality, and a difference shift of thinking, as an attorney, to be open, to be creative, and in a way, to go with the flow a little bit, and not have the sense of control. I’m not going to be able to control the outcome, I’m going to control point A to point B.
Dave Aarons: And this is how it has to be.
Sou Bounlutay: Yes.
Dave Aarons: It says you fossilize your options?
Sou Bounlutay: That’s right.
Dave Aarons: You become rigid.
Sou Bounlutay: Then you break. What this allows is, this is an opportunity for the attorney to practice in an individualized manner. Not just for the client, but also for the attorney. I mean, how great is that? Because most of us go into this profession, because we want to have the freedom, and we have to have the power to maneuver and control our own life.
Sunny Awla: Well, I want to change the world.
Sou Bounlutay: And change the world in the process, yeah. And change the world in the process, right? Then you realize, “Oh,” excuse me, I want to say shit.
Dave Aarons: That’s all, Sunny? I mean, you’ve really got to step up your commitments here.
Sou Bounlutay: I mean, come on, right? Then all of a sudden you feel like, “Oh no, I’m actually trapped in how to do this.” Because there’s not that freedom. There’s not as much freedom.
Sunny Awla: You get stuck.
Sou Bounlutay: You get stuck.
Sunny Awla: And you get stuck with all the mentality of everybody who has come before you, and all the people who are training you, and what you thought your profession was going to be. And as a small business owner, or a solo practitioner, the stress.
Sou Bounlutay: Or a minority.
Sunny Awla: Or a minority.
Sou Bounlutay: There’s so many layers, you know?
Sunny Awla: The issue then becomes, how do you get that business? I know for me, when I started my own practice, I thought, “What am I going to do? How am I going to get the business?” It was nice to be out volunteering, but when you’re volunteering for King County Bar Association, or Northwestern Justice Project, you don’t get the client.
Sou Bounlutay: You don’t get the client. It’s that insecurity, as an attorney, you can only have freedom and flexibility if you have consistency and predictability, right? You have to have some sort of, in your practice and your professional life, in order for you to have the freedom to be creative, you have to have that foundation of stability. And to know that the leads are coming, that they’re going to be there. There’s that sense of stability and comfort here.
Sunny Awla: And they’re good leads.
Sou Bounlutay: Yes.
Sunny Awla: They’re warm leads. People are expecting your phone call, they are happy that you’re calling.
Sou Bounlutay: That makes a huge difference.
Sunny Awla: It makes a big difference.
Sou Bounlutay: It makes a huge difference, knowing that there’s somebody behind the scenes that is bringing you the leads, so that you can have the freedom to do what you need to do, whether you’re going to take on that case knowing that, you know what? I’m not going to make much money, but there’s something of a higher goal. I want to take this case on, because I want to impact. This is my opportunity.
Dave Aarons: It comes from a standpoint of abundance. You end up knowing that your bases are covered, and it gives you the ability to not make decisions from a standpoint of scarcity.
Sou Bounlutay: Yes, because I can tell, doing litigation and doing hourly rate, the majority of the time, if I really look at it, my flat rate, because I keep track of all the time, like you said. Every time I open a file to keep track, the client is getting such a good deal. I can, almost 50%, if not higher, than the time, most of the time, I’m getting maybe $1,500 worth in terms of flat fee, but I’m giving the client $5,000 worth of work.
Dave Aarons: Sure.
Sunny Awla: But it’s more fulfilling.
Sou Bounlutay: Because it’s my choice.
Sunny Awla: It’s your choice, right.
Sou Bounlutay: It’s my choice, because I am, we have an agreement. We have a trust. Because my basic needs are met, and I know that clients are coming. I know that leads are coming.
Dave Aarons: In other cases, you’re going to make a lot of money. It gives you the bandwidth.
Sou Bounlutay: The bandwidth, or whatever. The ability to live a life of abundance. So when I give, I give unconditionally. If the client wants to really see what they’re worth in terms of the case that I’m providing for them, I can give them the billing statement, and they will see, right on there, the worth and the product, and how much time and effort, and heart I’m putting into their case so that they can save some money. So that they can have some access. I’m giving them between $5,000 to $7,000 of service, and they’re paying me $1,500. It’s a win-win for everybody. I get my needs met, and I get also the higher needs of, I want to serve. They get access, and the knowledge, because they can see it, that somebody is doing this. Not just because of profit, but because there’s heart involved.
Dave Aarons: Yes.
Sou Bounlutay: It’s a beautiful thing. It’s the beginning of the creating of a beautiful world for everybody, I think. Right?
Sunny Awla: Yeah.
Sou Bounlutay: See, you are making a difference. You’re just much better at being practical about it.
Sunny Awla: I guess so, yeah. I enjoy it, but I definitely, for me it was a life saver, because I didn’t have the connections in Washington State. Opening up a practice is a little bit scary, and to be able to know that there are people, that these leads are coming and they are legitimate, valid leads, not just, and I tried other companies before, and during.
Sou Bounlutay: It’s a skim play.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, it really is, and people aren’t interested. Those leads weren’t really proper warm leads. These are actually warm leads with people who have legitimate, either immigration or family law issues, and they want a call from a lawyer. I think that’s the key thing, is that they’re expecting you, and I don’t know what, I haven’t ever tried to get myself a lead on. I thought one day I’m going to try to do that, just to see, but I don’t know what the process is they go through, or what questions they answer. But whatever, however they’re vetted, they’re legitimate, and I appreciate that. It’s worth it.
Sou Bounlutay: It’s about trust. I mean, between us, because in terms of my interaction with unbundled, it’s mostly, mainly you and Graham, right?
Dave Aarons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sou Bounlutay: There’s that trust, right? I have the trust with you, so I can free my space and my time to do what I need to do, which is to decide not all the leads that come my way are the right leads for me. To decide how I’m going to best serve it, and I think there has to be trust with everybody where, maybe in another service. The moment you don’t have the trust, then if there is a problem, there’s no way to communicate it. If something is off, if I get a lead that’s off, then I can just say, “I don’t know what’s going on. Did you tweak something?” We can have that honest conversation of what’s working and what’s not working.
I think that unbundled service is different in that way, because I can directly communicate. If something doesn’t feel quite in sync, I can communicate. I mean, I have your personal text, I have your personal phone number where I can text you. You have my cell phone, where you can text me.
Sunny Awla: I just feel bad that I don’t call you guys enough.
Sou Bounlutay: Yeah. To have that kind of relationship, for me as an attorney, is knowing that while I’m doing my job, somebody else is also taking care of me, so that I can continue doing what I need to do. To have that, I think, and you will agree, that’s a phenomenal gift. That’s a phenomenal gift, because for people like you and me, where we have, we’re minority, we’re women, we’re sole practitioner or very small firm. We don’t have that well-established way to get clients to have our service known, to let other people know that, “I’m here. And you know what means the world to me? Is to have the ability to help you.”
We don’t have that ability, and I know there’s tons of you that are behind the scenes. To have that, knowing that while I’m trying to care of other people, there are other people trying to take care of me, and I can trust in that. I think that’s phenomenal. I think that’s a great, great way to be.
Sunny Awla: Yay, Graham and Dave.
Sou Bounlutay: Right? Isn’t that good?
Sunny Awla: Now I see how you can do trials that quick.
Sou Bounlutay: Oh no, what do you mean?
Dave Aarons: She brings it.
Sunny Awla: You’re a very eloquent speaker.
Sou Bounlutay: Oh, thank you.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, very good.
Sou Bounlutay: Thank you. Well, I wasn’t expecting that.
Sunny Awla: Yeah, really good.
Sou Bounlutay: You know, there’s a fine line between crazy and genius, right? But yeah, thank you. Thank you. I love, and I’m going to take on some of your ideas to be more practical.
Sunny Awla: Yeah. I’m not going to take on any last-minute trials. I’m just going to send those on to you.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. This is such a cooperative one. I can say, it’s a real privilege, and it feels really, really great to know that the work we’ve put in to build this platform, and the decade of years we’ve put in to learn, the strategies we’ve learned to educate consumers, and bring in the clients and so forth, is creating the space for you to serve these clients from a more authentic space. And to be in your own creativity, and to maybe rehydrate that initial seed of wanting to serve, and wanting to change the world, and have an impact on access to justice, and do something much greater.
And so, it’s a real privilege to work with attorneys like yourselves, that are on the cutting edge, and are willing and wanting to bring yourself so fully to what it is you’re doing. It’s just been a lot of fun to support all of you in your growth, and all of the phases that have gone into this relationship, and the different ways.
Sou Bounlutay: The panic calls. You call him and he calls me, and he’s like, “What’s happening with her?”
Dave Aarons: We’ve got them all. The ups, the downs, the ins and outs, but at the end of the day, we’re all doing this for the same reason. And so, I commend all of the work you guys do every single day, for every single one of these clients. We’re going to continue to do what we do every single day, to educate the clients on the front end, to get them more aware of unbundled services, so this could be a way for them to get the help that they so desperately need. There’s a lack of awareness out there that attorneys such as yourselves, that have these principles, are available. So, thank you again for everything you guys are doing, and as far as this podcast goes, this is our first video podcast.
I think it’s been a real pleasure to have these in-person, joyous, energetic discussions. I think we’re really grabbing at the thread of what this is all about, and to me, that’s really exciting. We’re going to have more interviews just like this. We have many attorneys like you guys, and having round twos, and maybe broader discussions as well, and building a community around these same goals. Because I think once we all, attorneys get to understand what this is really about, that it’s not second rate, or it’s not low cost, cheap legal, lawyering. It’s actually a movement. It’s attorneys that really want to make a difference.
They’re doing it properly, they’re building practices. They’re getting more in touch with that desire to serve, that it will become a lot more commonplace and self-evident, is that providing unbundled legal resources in your practice is just a necessary way to practice in today’s times.
Sou Bounlutay: Now, I’m excited because through this whole process, whatever it is that you’re doing, because I feel like, just when I think I’ve reached a level of understanding of what unbundle is doing, then you come and share with me a whole different vision, that’s bigger. For me, I’m like, “Oh!” But yeah, I think I’m in sync with you, but the vision that you have is so much greater than what I could have ever imagined. And so for me, wanting to see what comes of it is phenomenal. I’m just excited to hear that, because I know from this broadcast alone, as attorneys sitting over here, doing the work that we do, and especially providing unbundled services, is that the learning process, technically, generally people look at attorneys as the one that has the knowledge, but we are also learning in this process.
And so I know that, from whatever the conversation, the 50, the 100 attorneys that you’re talking to, I know that you’re keeping track, and I know that you’re taking notes like, “Oh, where can we serve them better? How can we make them even better?” So I just can see it. I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your listening, that you are actively listening. And so I am eager to learn, and to see what comes out of that, because I know at the end of the day, you are about service, and giving, teaching, and giving me, as an attorney, the opportunity to grow. Not just as an attorney, but as a human being. It’s just exciting to me. It’s a movement. I like the word movement.
Sunny Awla: It’s a paradigm shift.
Sou Bounlutay: Oh, you like that word.
Sunny Awla: I like that one.
Dave Aarons: New paradigm, I love.
Sou Bounlutay: You can take that one.
Sunny Awla: I will use that word today.
Sou Bounlutay: Yeah, it’s exciting. I can’t wait.
Dave Aarons: And I appreciate the fact that you’ve been stepping into the space at each new level in valuable ways, and I think we’re all stepping into a greater commitment to what it is we’re doing, at each step of the process. Experimenting, trying things out, that’s working okay. What if we did that? What if we tried this? What if we worked together? What if we shared ideas? There’s just all these new levels that we’re breaching, and this is just one of them here, with this interview, so thank you both for being willing to join us, and talk so openly about the ways in which you guys have been implementing these service options, and finding ways to implement to help more people, and do it in front of video cameras, and lights, all the stuff in what was, in the legal industry, someone of an unprecedented way. That takes a certain degree of courage, and I commend you for it.
Sou Bounlutay: Thank you.
Sunny Awla: Thank you.
Dave Aarons: Yeah. And to everyone else that’s participating and listening into the podcast, we really appreciate the fact that you’re applying these strategies in your practices, giving us feedback, comments. It’s been 50 great episodes, and we’re really excited about all of the, but the impact that it’s having, and the ways in which you’re implementing these practices into your law firms as well. We’re really excited for the next 50 episodes, and doing a lot more video podcasts just like this one. For now, tune into the new YouTube channel, Unbundled Attorney. The links will be in the podcast show notes to link you right to the videos, to our Facebook page, and where else you can connect to us online. Until next time, I’ll see you all on the next episode. Thanks so much.
For more information about how our exclusive unbundled leads can help you grow your practice, visit our website at unbundledattorney.com. You can watch each new episode of the podcast on the Unbundled Attorney YouTube channel, or if you prefer to listen, you can find us on iTunes, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to subscribe, so you can get each new episode as soon as it’s available, and remember to leave us your review on iTunes. We read each and every one of them, and really appreciate your support of the show. Once again, thanks for listening.
Episode 50: A Comprehensive Breakdown of the Benefits and Ethical Considerations for Providing Unbundled Legal Services in Immigration and Family Law
We are excited to announce the release of our first video podcast episode! We traveled to Seattle, WA recently to film this interview with Sou Bounlutay and Sunny Awla. Both Sou and Sunny are successful Unbundled Attorneys who have a great deal of experience providing unbundled legal services in the immigration and family law space. They share an informed overview of the ethical considerations for unbundling services in immigration law. They identify the types of cases their office offers unbundled services for and which ones they don’t. They also discuss how offering unbundled services has positively impacted their practice, and why they are now strong advocates for the unbundled legal services model. They share why it is critical to have a consistent source of quality prospective clients, especially for solo and small firms, and the important role Unbundled Attorney has played in the development of their own practice.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The importance of distinguishing between litigation and affirmative cases when providing unbundled services for immigration law
- An overview of the unbundled services Sunny provides for her immigration clients and the types of issues and client circumstances they are best suited for
- Examples of how the Washington courts have supported attorneys who are providing unbundled services, such as offering standard forms that enable attorneys to make limited appearances in court
- How to calculate a flat fee for a trial in family law
- Why Sou enjoys taking trial cases even when they provide her very little time to prepare
- The importance of overcoming the fear of losing a case
- A discussion of the core maxim of unbundled lawyers - clients are better off with some help from a lawyer rather than no help at all
- Why legal access should be a right and not a privilege
- How breaking your cases into billable segments improves your profitability and reduces accounts receivable
- The importance of taking time to quantify tasks involved with each service you provide, how long it takes to complete each task, and exactly what you need to charge for each step in the process
- How communicating with authenticity and radical honesty to build your client’s trust and confidence in your services
- How offering limited scope services helps reduce stress in your practice
- The unique way of “leading with unbundled services” that can significantly increase the number of clients who retain your services
- How unbundling enables you to build a unique and individualized practice, both for you and your clients
- The important role that having a consistent and reliable source of new prospective clients has on the freedom and flexibility you can have in your practice
- Sou and Sunny’s thoughts about Unbundled Attorney, their experience working with our support team, and how the Unbundled leads have positively impacted the growth of their practice
- And much more…
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Unbundled Attorney YouTube Channel
- Unbundled Attorney Facebook Page
- Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast Episode 40 with Anthony Saunders: The “Try It Before You Buy It” Enrollment Strategy: A Unique Sales Approach That Could Skyrocket Your Lead Conversion Rate
If you enjoy this podcast, please head over to iTunes, subscribe to the show, and leave us a review. We love hearing from our listeners and look forward to reading your feedback!
For more information about Unbundled Attorney and how our exclusive, unbundled leads can help grow your practice, visit: https://www.unbundledattorney.com