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Immigration a la Carte: Unbundling Immigration Legal Services

Romish Badani

"Unbundled" legal services involve attorneys performing specific, discrete tasks for a client (as opposed to full service representation) after the client completes part of their own legal work. In a 2012 article in the ABA's GPSolo publication, attorney and technologist Stephanie Kimbro described how law firms must integrate "unbundling" into their practices to adapt to the changing legal marketplace. Kimbro goes on to describe immigration law as a practice area ripe for unbundled services. I will briefly discuss the opportunities for unbundling in the immigration vertical and how technology can facilitate this process.

Let's start with a critical statistic: approximately two-thirds of all immigration applicants do not get professional legal help. This is unfortunate given that working with a qualified immigration attorney is proven to result in significantly better outcomes. There are two key reasons why these applicants don't end up working with attorneys. The first is that finding the right immigration attorney is a black box process full of friction today. Applicants do not have the tools to quickly and reliably find a trustworthy attorney that fits their budget. The second reason is cost. Full service immigration legal fees are often too expensive for applicants across the socioeconomic spectrum, from the middle class U.S. citizen applying for her spouse's green card to the startup business applying for an H-1B. These two factors lead applicants to apply pro se or, for some consumers, turn to unscrupulous notarios in their communities.

The good news is that these dynamics present an opportunity for attorneys to provide unbundled immigration legal services and profitably capture a large portion of the market that is currently unaddressed. Historically, it has been challenging for an immigration attorney to profitably and confidently offer unbundled services because work completed by the client did not save much time. The attorney would still have to confirm the client's eligibility for a chosen immigration path, edit the client's government forms, coordinate the gathering of supporting documents, and check for other red flags. However, new technology tools can ensure that clients successfully complete certain legal tasks and can dramatically reduce the time required by attorneys for unbundled offerings. These tools ask the client a series of personalized questions in a user friendly format (instead of clients having to navigate complex USCIS forms) and feature sophisticated built-in legal logic, error checking, and issue spotting.

We at LexSpot are pioneering the use of such tools to enable more applicants to work with immigration attorneys and to enable these attorneys to profitably provide unbundled services without compromising their billable hour rate. We successfully tested the concept in 2012 through a Deferred Action application tool (attorneys were impressed by the thoroughness and accuracy of the output). We recently added a workflow for family-based green cards that confirms eligibility, generates the required Form I-130, and guides applicants through uploading their required supporting documents (e.g. a copy of the applicant's birth certificate to prove her relationship to her sponsor). More application types are on the way, including family and employment-based processes. Attorneys save time and access a base of clients that otherwise not work with an attorney at full service rates. Of course, if any red flags are discovered, attorneys are not held to their original unbundled fee quote.

The legal industry is at an important point in history. Immigration attorneys can either view client-facing technology solutions as a threat, or embrace the great new opportunities to democratize access to legal services. For more information on how LexSpot can help, learn more about our program for attorneys or feel free to contact us directly at support@lexspot.com. Comments are also welcome below!


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