When attorney Michelle Fitzgerald opened her own firm in 2000, she decided she wanted to offer legal services differently than anyone else in the state.
Horizons Law Group LLC, which Fitzgerald founded fresh out of law school, offers clients “unbundled” legal services, allowing clients to receive representation on an a la carte basis.
Early on, she requested a legal opinion from the State Bar’s Ethics Committee on whether the practice would run afoul of the Rules of Professional Responsibility, but “they said they were not ready to deal with this,” she said.
Fitzgerald went ahead anyway, opening an office in Wauwatosa that was part law office, part law library.
Clients were free to come in and use the library for a fee.
Though the library side of the business didn’t take off, her offer of unbundled legal services has been a success, she said.
Fitzgerald said she believes she has a higher trust level with clients, because she doesn’t ask for a big retainer up front and provides only what the client wants.
It’s that approach that makes Fitzgerald a good attorney, said Diane Sleeva, the office manager at Horizons, now based in Brookfield.
“Every client and legal matter is very different, and Michelle’s willingness to help people find the best solution to fit each unique situation sets her apart,” Sleeva said. “Legal issues can be very emotional and challenging; Michelle makes it easier for the average person to work through legal matters while understanding what is taking place.”
The unbundled approach frequently leads to more full representation, Fitzgerald said.
“They (clients) usually find out that they need more services than they thought,” she said.
Even when limited representation doesn’t lead to full representation, Fitzgerald said, it is rewarding.
Sometimes, she’ll spend a couple of hours helping a client planning to appear in court pro se, and the next day, the client will call to thank her and tell her how impressed the judge was with how well she represented herself.
Fitzgerald’s general litigation practice now includes four associates. She practices primarily family law, but the firm also handles adoptions, bankruptcy, real estate, contract and consumer action, and some criminal law.
Although Fitzgerald has been successful with unbundled legal services and the Supreme Court now expressly allows attorneys to offer them (SCR 20:1.2(c)), she said she still hasn’t met any other attorneys who offer them.
Fitzgerald doesn’t understand why, she said.
“I think it’s short-sighted not to,” she said.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfp7lva7uMg