Limited-scope representation is when you and a lawyer agree that the lawyer will handle some parts of your case and you will handle others. This is different from more traditional arrangements between lawyers and clients where a lawyer is hired to provide legal services on all aspects of a case, from start to finish. Limited-scope representation is sometimes called “unbundling” or “discrete task representation.”
Here are some examples of limited-scope arrangements:
When you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to handle your entire case, limited-scope representation can be a great way for you to have legal help with your case while keeping costs down. Courts approve of limited-scope representation because they want to encourage people to get as much legal assistance as they need to protect their rights. They know that you will do a better job of following proper court procedures and presenting the important information to them if you have the help of a lawyer during the more complicated parts of a case.
Limited-scope representation may be somewhat new in some counties, and some courts and lawyers may not be very familiar with it. But more and more lawyers are willing to take on limited-scope cases and more judges are becoming familiar with these arrangements. You can contact your local lawyer referral service to find out where you can find a lawyer who will provide unbundled services. When you do speak with a lawyer and you want limited representation, make sure that you are clear about what you want; that you do not want to hire the lawyer to handle the entire case.
When trying to decide if a limited-scope arrangement is right for you, you should:
Get help deciding if limited-scope representation is a good idea for a child support case.
Get help deciding if limited-scope representation is a good idea for a child custody case.
Limited-scope representation vs. full representation
There are many benefits to limited-scope representation over full representation:
But, there are many times when limited-scope may not be a good choice, like when:
Limited-scope representation vs. representing yourself
Limited-scope representation can often also be a better alternative than representing yourself:
You and the lawyer should have an in-depth discussion about all the aspects of your case, and agree on your respective responsibilities.
Some of the issues you need to work out with the lawyer are:
In making decisions about these issues, remember that the lawyer has the education and experience to work on the more technical parts of your case, guide you throughout the court process, and spot important legal issues that you may not see on your own.
You and the limited-scope lawyer will be working as a team, but it is your case. If you and the lawyer cannot agree on who should take on which parts of the case, or on decisions that need to be made in your case, you should listen to what the lawyer says. If the lawyer feels strongly that the course you want to take is not in your best interests, listen carefully to the reasons why he or she is recommending you do something differently.
But, in the end, it is your case, your decision and your responsibility. You have the right to disregard the lawyer’s advice, but if the case does not turn out the way you hoped, you have to be willing to accept the responsibility for your decision.
The lawyer will likely tell you where to look to find tools to help you assist in your own representation. There are many good resources out there, including this Online Self-Help Center, help from your court, your court’s website, your local public law library, and others.
There are special forms and service contracts that you and your limited-scope lawyer have to use when you agree to limited-scope representation.
First, make sure your contract with the limited-scope lawyer is very clear, and that every detail you discussed in terms of handling the case is in writing. If anything changes, you can always agree to increase or change the scope of representation between the 2 of you at a later time.
Your contract should be very clear on what the lawyer will and will not be doing, as well as what you, the client, will be doing. The contract should also clearly specify how you will be charged and your fee arrangement. The clearer you are, the more likely you are to avoid any misunderstandings.
Before you sign, make sure you understand everything in the agreement and the risks of limited-scope representation.
A special notice has to be filed in your court case to inform the court and the other side of the limited-scope representation if the lawyer is going to appear in the case for you.
In family law cases, the lawyer will need to file the Notice of Limited Scope Representation (Form FL-950).
In a civil case, the lawyer will need to file the Notice of Limited Scope Representation (Form MC-955).
When the lawyer has finished with the part of the case agreed to, make sure to sign and file the Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050).
In some counties, the lawyer referral service has “unbundled” panels, also called “modest means” panels or “limited scope” panels. These panels are limited to lawyers who have had specialized training in helping people represent themselves, and who are willing to offer this service. Even if your county does not have a specific panel of limited-scope lawyers, the lawyer referral service can help you find a lawyer who is willing to help you in a limited-scope manner. Find your local lawyer referral service.
Also, if you already know a lawyer that you would like to hire, ask him or her about a limited-scope representation arrangement.