A New Way to Use a Lawyer: Limited-Scope Representation

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For anyone facing involvement with the legal system for the first time, thoughts may immediately turn to lawyers. We’ve already addressed such questions as “Do I need a lawyer?” and “Can I get a lawyer for free?” and we covered lawyer referral services as well.

For those who don’t want to “go it alone” but don’t qualify for free services and can’t afford complete representation, there is another option. Limited-scope representation – also known as “unbundling” or “limited-assistance representation” – is growing in popularity. You and your lawyer agree to split up the tasks involved in the case, and you only pay the lawyer for the tasks he or she takes on. You do the rest yourself. By not paying for services you can handle on your own, you get the most effective legal help you can afford.

Common tasks the lawyer handles are advice about the case, court appearances for the more complicated issues, document and evidence preparation, coaching, discovery, negotiation, and legal research. It really depends on which tasks you feel comfortable doing on your own, and which tasks you’d rather leave to your lawyer.

Not all lawyers are interested in such an arrangement, and it’s not common everywhere. But 39 states have adopted some form paragraph (c) of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.02, which allows limited-scope representation as long as the limitation is reasonable and the client gives informed consent.

Some court systems have lists of lawyers who will take limited-scope cases, or who have been qualified to handle them. Examples may be found in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and Johnson County, Kansas.

Other court systems and legal services organizations provide information about how the process works, such as the California courts, Kansas Legal Services, Douglas County District Court in Kansas, Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, Massachusetts Housing Court, Boston Municipal Court, and court systems in Missouri, Montana, and Nebraska.

In New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Community Legal Services uses unbundled services to lower costs for its clients.

You can find all of these links in the Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral category of CourtReference‘s state court guides, with more to come as the idea catches on.

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