FAQ - Lawyers Corner

  1. What is unbundled law? Limited scope representation, often called “unbundling” is an arrangement whereby an attorney and a client agree that the attorney will perform some, but not all, aspects of a legal matter, and may or may not coach the client on others. It can range from merely consulting on a legal issue and proceeding pro se (that is, self representing), to obtaining assistance with document preparation, procedural information, strategy, legal briefing, or to have counsel appear in court for a single appearance or issue.
  2. Are there other terms for limited scope? Yes, in various jurisdictions, it is called discrete task representation, limited legal assistance, document assistance, or similar terms. The term of choice, however, is limited scope representation, since that is the clearest description. Lay people, however, often use the word unbundling.
  3. Why is it important now? In these changing economic times, more and more middle class litigants are finding they can’t afford to hire a lawyer for traditional full service representation. Yet, they still have houses, cars, and pensions to protect, property rights to defend, disputes with neighbors and homeowner associations, insurance disputes and consumer claims, marital and child custody issues to be resolved, and a myriad of other legal issues which are important and valuable to them and from which they don’t want to walk away. In an appropriate case, limited scope representation can help them protect their property and other rights in an affordable and effective way.
  4. Why can’t people just go to legal aid to get these services? Only a small number of the people who need lawyers even qualify for legal aid. While they have modest means, they may make too much money to get free services from a legal aid lawyer. Additionally, with the current cuts in legal aid funding, many programs don’t have the ability to assist more than a small proportion of those who do meet these income or other guidelines. Finally, many legal aid programs are limited by their charters or funding to only addressing very limited legal issues and can’t address the range of issues the general public might have. The vast majority of litigants fall outside this umbrella and must navigate the legal system on their own or not at all.
  5. Who is promoting limited scope representation? Limited scope representation is a middle class phenomenon. More and more people are learning that if they have a legal problem which doesn’t lend itself to a contingent fee, they can’t afford to pay for full service representation out of pocket. Therefore, they are looking for ways to stretch their litigation budget as far as possible so that they don’t have to walk away from meritorious claims and legitimate defenses. Also, our legal system was not designed to meet the needs of masses of unrepresented litigants. As courts across the country struggle with the burden of thousands of pro se litigants with badly drafted paperwork and little or no understanding of procedural requirements, they welcome the benefit of some lawyer assistance in their own courts, and are becoming advocates for limited scope.
  6. Is it legal in every state? Forty states currently have rules on limited scope. Check the map [link] for links to your state’s information. Most approve and encourage it, however there are variations from state to state. Those which have adopted ABA Model Rule 1.2 [link] or a variation, actively promote it. Other states, such as New York, have a rule allowing limited scope in court based programs [link] (e.g. “Lawyer For A Day” and other volunteer programs) but not for representing private clients. Others, such as Massachusetts, have pilot programs in selected courts [link]. In any event, check the rules in your jurisdiction before taking on this work. The National Center for State Courts has links to rules in forty states [link], but you should always go to the source link yourself to make sure you are operating under the most recent version of the rules in your jurisdiction. This is a very hot topic right now, and the rules are changing quickly.
  7. Does limited scope mean limited liability? No. When you are engaged by a client to perform any legal service, whether within the context of full service or limited scope representation, you always owe your client the duties of competence, confidentiality and loyalty. However, in limited scope representation, you draw a bright line box around the scope of your involvement. That means that you are responsible only for the part of the representation you undertake, not for something that goes wrong that is outside the scope of your responsibility.
  8. Won’t I run the risk of getting sued or disciplined for something the client does wrong? Not if you carefully limit the scope of your representation, and meet all of the ethical rules [link] applicable in your state. Click here [link] for a list of unbundling rules from state to state. The key is to draw a very bright line box around the scope of your representation and not step outside that box unless you re-draw it first.
  9. Is this an attorney client relationship? Yes, it is. This isn’t a lesser relationship where you owe your client lesser duties. The standard of care for a service in limited scope is the same as the standard of care for that service in the context of full service representation. You owe your limited scope clients the same duties you owe your full service clients.
  10. What are the ethical rules I need to be aware of? While the rules vary from state to state, and there are many nuances, the basics come down to four rules:
    1. Limitations in scope must be informed and in writing;
    2. Limitations must be reasonable under the circumstances;
    3. Changes in scope must be documented;
    4. A lawyer must advice a client of the existence of related issues, even if not asked.
  11. Why do I have to advise a client of related issues? One of the most critical services any lawyer provides is a thorough legal analysis and spotting of all potential issues. For that reason, before entering into a limited scope arrangement, you have to be sure you have done a thorough diagnostic interview and that the limitation on scope is reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances. The law is complex, and a solution to one issue is likely to trigger consequences to another. As between the lawyer and the client, the lawyer is the one who is better able to know if there are related issues. The client can then decide whether s/he wants the related issue to be inside or outside the scope.
  12. If I have to advise my client of related issues, do I have to represent them on those issues as well? What if the issue is outside my expertise? Your duty is to advise of the existence of a related issue. It may well be outside your expertise, in which case, it would be an ethical breach for you to attempt to handle it yourself. You should advise them to see a specialist, and document your file that you did so. It is then up to the client whether they decide to follow your advice or not. Much as a divorce lawyer who spots a tax issue and tells the client they need to consult a tax specialist, any limited scope lawyer has to alert the client to the related issue. If it is within your expertise, you and your client can discuss whether it should be inside or outside the scope (always keeping the four rules [link] in mind).
  13. Are there cases where this doesn’t work? Of course. Limited scope representation isn’t for every client, every legal issue, or every lawyer. There are people who are simply incapable of self representation, even with excellent coaching and document assistance, and they are not good candidates. Some legal issues (such as Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, or SEC and other regulatory matters) are too complex to delegate to a lay person. Some courts are not friendly to limited scope representation (though, as they realize how much more smoothly their courts run with lawyer assistance as opposed to a sea of pro se litigants, many judges are enthusiastically supporting the concept). Part of the diagnostic interview [link] is to weed out those clients, cases, or issues which don’t lend themselves to limited scope. The Best Practices [link] will give you important guidance on this.
  14. Do I have to disclose ghostwriting? You should check the rules in your jurisdiction. There are three schools of thought on the subject. California, and the states which follow it, are most liberal, and provide that document assistance need not be disclosed unless a fee award is requested. The family law rule is 5.71, the civil rule is 3.36 (?). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the rule adopted by Colorado and the states that follow it, require full disclosure, including contact information and the bar number of the attorney who drafted the document. The middle ground Florida/New Hampshire rule merely provides that the document must state that it was “prepared with the assistance of counsel.” Always check your state rules to determine which one applies to you.
  15. What if I’m in a jurisdiction where putting my name on a pleading constitutes a general appearance? Most states which are adopting limited scope rules are sensitive to this issue, and want to encourage lawyers to unbundle their services. As a result, they are working to change their rules regarding general appearances so that lawyers will be willing to provide document assistance (see Judge’s Corner [link]). If your jurisdiction hasn’t gotten around to changing this rule, and ghostwriting must be disclosed, you shouldn’t provide document assistance until the rule is changed. If putting your name on a pleading constitutes a general appearance in your jurisdiction, don’t provide these services.
  16. How do I make sure I don’t get sued for something the client messes up? The key is to draw a bright line box around the scope of your representation and make sure you don’t step outside it. Fortunately, there are comprehensive risk management materials for both family law [link] and civil law [link] which make it very cost effective to do this. These risk management materials are available for free, and should be tailored to your jurisdiction and your specific area of practice.
  17. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if I have to paper my file by sending confirming letters that I’m not getting paid for, just to be sure I’m protected? Fortunately, there are simpler and more cost-effective ways to document the limitation on scope, as well as any changes in that scope, by the use of checklists. All of these are in the risk management materials [link] which are designed to be so efficient and effective that you really have to work hard to mess this up if you just use them according to the instructions.
  18. Will this cost me my full service clients? There will always be people who need, and can afford to pay for, full service representation. However, there are millions of people who are currently unrepresented. In California, for example, between 70% and 80% of family law litigants are unrepresented. While civil statistics are lower, they still represent large numbers of potential clients. Even in bad economic times, these are not all poor people. They have houses, homeowner associations, insurance issues, family law matters, and other legal affairs where they need the assistance of a qualified lawyer. The point of limited scope is to offer competent, affordable legal services to people who are now nobody’s clients.
  19. How do I get paid? Limited scope representation is, by definition, “pay as you go.” The client confers, gets legal advice or assistance, pays for it and goes away. Sometimes the client consults for a single service (such as drafting an order after hearing), sometimes they return periodically for coaching periodically through a protracted litigation. In any event, you are paid at the time of service, so there are no accounts receivable. Since most attorneys carry far too much in uncollected or even uncollectable accounts receivable, limited scope can be a very profitable area of practice.
  20. Should I charge a lower rate for limited scope than I do for full service? No. Some lawyers are comfortable quoting flat fees for specific services, though this is risky unless you are quite sure of the average amount of time required. A better practice is to charge by the hour unless you are very sure of the amount of your commitment which will be required to do a good job. Remember, your standard of care isn’t lowered just because you quoted too low a fee and the money ran out before you produced a quality product. And since the standard of care [link] for a service performed in limited scope is the same as for that same service in the context of full service representation, there is no reason to charge a lower fee. The economy is not in the hourly fee, but in the fact that the client is performing the more mundane/routine parts of the case with coaching, while you can focus your attention on the more technical and complex issues and tasks. After all, that’s why you went to law school, not to divide pots and pans.
  21. Can I just train my paralegal to do the intake and decide where the scope should be for a particular client? No. The four rules [link] are non-delegable. It is your professional responsibility as a lawyer to go through the process to determine that the limitation in scope is reasonable under the circumstances, that the client has given informed consent, and to advise the client of related issues.
  22. How does this change my attorney/client relations? You still have the same duties [link] to your limited scope and full service clients. However, the relationship is different. Instead of being the white knight who rides in and solves the client’s problem, you are working more as a team. Clients love this. They feel empowered as part of the solution to their own problem. They have a greater understanding of the difficulty of the task after they’ve tried to do it themselves. Clients are often suspicious of the billable hour, which they fear gives us an incentive to do unnecessary work or pad our time. When they have spent 20 hours trying to draft a document and still get it wrong, they are less likely to question the fact that it took you two hours to get it right. Also, since this is a consumer-driven movement, and many of your potential clients are used to a self help mentality and getting information for free on the web, they will come in with the mindset that they want to retain control over their legal matter. Lawyers who do a lot of limited scope report that these are their favorite and most satisfied clients.
  23. Will this increase my liability? Not if you do it right. Look to the Best Practices [link]. The risk management materials [link] are turn-key, designed to be put into use immediately. They are efficient, cost-effective, and comprehensive. If you just use them as instructed and remember the four rules [link] you shouldn’t get in trouble. Of course, when doing your client intake, you should weed out any client/case/issue which is not appropriate, and when in doubt, best practice is to be conservative.
  24. What if the client can’t do it as well as I can? Am I liable for his mistake? As long as you have performed your part competently and clearly documented the limits on your scope, you are not liable for the client’s mistake. If you are coaching a client to self-represent, you are responsible for the quality of your coaching (remembering the four rules [link]) and not the quality of the client’s execution of your instructions. Of course, the client can’t do it as well as you. If he can, you probably shouldn’t be practicing law. However, that isn’t the issue. There are many things which clients can do adequately with good coaching. This is a consumer decision [link] and should be addressed as such.
  25. Isn’t it better for all clients to get full service representation? Of course, everyone would benefit from quality representation at every phase of their legal matter. That simply isn’t an option for a large number of civil litigants, especially in state courts. The question isn’t whether limited scope representation is better than full service: it is whether limited scope representation is better than no representation at all. Our legal system is set up for a reality which no longer exists: that every civil litigant has access to full service representation. There aren’t enough lawyers, and the fact that lawyers are competing for clients already, even with the vast numbers of unrepresented litigants, indicates that there is a serious need to develop innovative models of representation to meet the legal needs of these underrepresented populations.
  26. What is the best way to talk to clients about this? Sometimes clients will start by saying they only want limited scope representation. More often, they will consult with a legal problem and it will be clear that, although they have a meritorious claim or defense, they can’t afford full service representation. In that case, it is helpful to discuss with them the appropriate options for limited scope (keeping in mind the four rules [link]). A discussion about how their litigation budget can be most effectively spent is a good place to start. You can identify the challenging or technical aspects of the matter as places where your assistance will be most valuable to them, and discuss coaching them on the simpler aspects. This is how you are sure you have informed consent. It is often helpful to address it in terms of a consumer choice: “you can hire me full service, and that will cost between X and Y. However, you can make a consumer choice to use less of my services, recognizing that there will be a trade-off. Even with the best of coaching, I can’t teach you everything I learned in law school and in many years of practice. If you elect to go to court by yourself, you may be confronted with issues and rules that couldn’t be foreseen. Are you willing to make that trade-off in order to save legal fees?”
  27. Do I have to have a written fee agreement? Even in jurisdictions which do not require written fee agreements in all cases, a written agreement is essential in limited scope representation. Remember, you are drawing a bright line box around the scope of your involvement. By definition, an oral agreement isn’t bright line, and any misunderstandings between you and your client about where the line is drawn will be resolved in favor of the client. Therefore, do your homework, and get a good fee agreement. Fortunately, that isn’t difficult. The risk management materials [link] have four sample fee agreements designed for four kinds of limited scope arrangements (single consultation, limited assistance, ongoing consulting and coaching, and going to court) which can be tailored to your jurisdiction and which MUST be tailored to each case. An easy and cost-effective way of doing this is to fill out the checklist as you are conducting your intake interview, thereby documenting not only what you talked about (remember informed consent) but what you are going to do and, equally importantly, what you are not going to do.
  28. Where does it work best? Refer to the Best Practices [link] for an overview. The best candidate for limited scope representation doesn’t have to be a well educated professional. However, they need to be comfortable assembling and evaluating relevant information, making business decisions, and understanding and accepting the consequences of those decisions. With the rise of the internet, millions of people routinely research every issue in their lives online before consulting a professional personally. They may come well-armed with information, and just need limited assistance. On the other hand, what they find on the internet is probably general and not tailored to their situation. And, of course, some of it is downright wrong, if not crazy. Someone who has a matter which is a combination of complex and more simple issues and tasks can be broken down (where appropriate) with the attorney handling the more complicated parts and coaching the client on the simpler ones.
  29. Which clients should I stay away from? Refer to the Best Practices [link] for an overview. This is really common sense. People who can’t speak before a crowd without having a panic attack should not be sent into court to represent themselves. People with mental health or language issues may not be able to give informed consent to the limitation on scope, much less understand and follow your coaching instructions. Some people will want to use limited scope to manipulate the system. These are usually very savvy, long term (even vexatious) litigants. Avoid them like the plague. People with unrealistic expectations about their case/claim, who refuse to accept that what they want isn’t likely to happen (or even possible) after you’ve told them the facts and the law aren’t on their side are not good candidates. They’ll just look for someone else to blame when it turns out that you were right and they can’t win what they want.
  30. Which issues should I not coach a client to self represent on? Anything that is highly technical should never be the subject of coaching or delegated to the client. On the other hand, these technical issues are perfect to split off for the lawyer to handle while coaching the client on the simpler aspects. Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, tax, government entitlements, complex regulatory issues, are all things that a lawyer should do and not coach the client on. Most discovery needs a lawyer’s touch to be done right.
  31. Where are the areas where I have to be most careful about not messing up? There are several:
    1. The four rules [link] must be scrupulously and personally followed.
    2. The box around your scope must be brightly drawn in writing. Use a checklist for completeness, have you and your client sign it, and give a copy to the client.
    3. Changes in scope must be documented. This is essential. Practice demonstrates that scope is very likely to change for a number of reasons: the client tries to do it himself, and realizes it is much harder than he thought; a new issue pops up which requires more professional attention; the client finds he really doesn’t want to do it himself. In every instance, the new limitation on scope (or expansion to full scope, not an uncommon occurrence) must be documented by an appropriate written fee agreement. Lawyers can’t afford to get lazy about this and go to work on something outside the original limitation on scope before documenting the new limitation. When a new issue arises, we all want to get going on the solution, because that’s where we find our professional satisfaction. However, the housekeeping detail of a new written limitation on scope can’t be skipped, and it can’t be done later. It has to be done before you step outside the box you’ve so carefully drafted.
    4. The end of the relationship must be documented. Many states have forms of notice of withdrawal or other written document which establishes the termination of an attorney/client relationship. That is much more critical here, where your part may be completed well before rest of the case is over. Document the end of the relationship by an appropriate court form (if available in your jurisdiction) or, at the very least, a confirming letter. There’s a sample letter in the risk management materials [link] which is easy to tailor to a specific case.
    5. Communication with your client is even more important in limited scope than in full service. Since you are doing some tasks and the client is doing others, communication has to be excellent. If it isn’t that is a signal that limited scope isn’t right for that situation.
    6. Follow the Best Practices [link] in the risk management materials [link] and don’t engage in limited scope in situations where it is not recommended. When in doubt, decline limited scope representation, even if that means the client goes elsewhere for representation.
  32. Why do I have to get specialized training? There are significant differences between limited scope and full service, and there are nuances, so you should obtain quality training. Fortunately, there are several places where you can obtain quality training for free on the web. PLI has done a series of unbundling programs. You can watch them for free at your own pace on your own computer, and download the materials to be tailored and put into use immediately in your office. “Expanding Your Practice Using Limited Scope Representation” can be found at [link]. A three hour Training of Trainers is available at [link]. A program focusing on limited scope in the context of homeowner association law is at [link]. The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has posted a free training at [link]. If you are going to add limited scope representation to the array of services you offer your clients, take a few hours to make sure you have the training to do it competently, ethically, and safely. It only takes three hours, costs you nothing, and improves your chances of sleeping well at night.
  33. What if I’m a full service attorney opposing a limited scope opponent? Will I get disciplined if I contact the client directly? The rule which prohibits an attorney from directly contacting a represented party has always had an exception: if the attorney authorizes you to contact his/her client directly. Often full service opponents are wary of discipline if they negotiate directly with the client. The best practice is for the limited scope attorney to provide written permission to the full service opponent detailing exactly which issues/tasks they are authorized to address directly with the client. That is usually enough to solve the problem. Since the existence of a bright line box around the limitation on scope is a matter which is decided between an attorney and his/her client, the opposing counsel will not know where that line is if the limited scope attorney doesn’t tell him/her. If you are authorizing an opponent to contact your client directly, make sure you caution your client not to let the conversation spill over into areas you are responsible for. Some states will even allow sanctions if an attorney refuses to honor the other side’s limitation on scope. For example, in California, Family Code 271 allows sanctions against a party or attorney who unreasonable thwarts settlement. An opponent who refuses to discuss settlement on an issue reserved to the client, after receiving written permission from the limited scope attorney involved in other issues, may well run the risk of a 271 sanction if the conduct is egregious.
  34. How does it work if I am coaching a self-represented client on settlement negotiations and there is a settlement conference? Most people who are receiving settlement strategy assistance want to have access to their consulting attorney to discuss settlement proposals. One common way to handle this is for the consulting attorney to be on telephone standby during the settlement conference. This is one exception to the suggestion that rates should not be reduced for limited scope [link], since you can do work for other clients while you are on telephone standby. Don’t be meeting with other clients during that period, however. It isn’t fair to your limited scope client, or to the person whose conference with you might get interrupted.
  35. This sounds difficult. Why do I have to do so much paperwork? Since limitations on scope must be documented, you have to obtain informed consent, and changes in scope must be memorialized, there is ongoing paperwork in limited scope which is not required for traditional full service arrangements. However, the risk management materials [link] make documenting these steps easy and cost effective. It doesn’t take more than a minute or two, and is essential. Remember, the point is to serve people who are currently nobody’s clients and who want and can afford to pay for quality limited scope services, not to take on unreasonable risk. You will be taking care to weed out the inappropriate cases/clients/issues at the outset. [link to Best Practices] If you’re not disciplined enough to take a minute to document your file, after it has been made so easy to do, this isn’t the practice for you.
  36. Is this just for family law? No, although the demand is greater in that field than in any other and this is a great tool for lawyers who already serve a middle class or lower middle class clientele.
  37. What are some other areas where it works well?
    1. Small claims assistance. Some states have small claims limitations of several thousand dollars. Since lawyers aren’t allowed in small claims court, many people with meritorious claims are happy to buy two or three hours of a lawyer’s time to script questions, organize exhibits, map out the case for them and generally increase their likelihood of a favorable result.
    2. A rapidly growing area of civil practice is homeowner association law. Most associations are well funded and represented (paid for by homeowner dues). When an individual homeowner has a legal dispute with the association, they are usually at a significant disadvantage. Many lawyers have developed a sub-specialty assisting homeowners who want to take on their associations, and prepare paperwork, coach and counsel them, and generally level the playing field. If you are interested in learning more about this, Practising Law Institute (PLI) has done a free three hour program on limited scope and homeowner association law, which can be watched on your computer, complete with all materials. The link is ________.
    3. Insurance coverage issues lend themselves to limited scope. If someone’s insurance benefits have been terminated or reduced, they may need immediate legal assistance to get benefits reinstated. However, the worst time for them to hire a lawyer is when their income has been reduced. If they can consult with counsel, get legal advice, perhaps demand letters and the like, they have a better chance of success, and will pay for the time it takes to get that critical assistance.
    4. Entitlement issues and administrative processes of many types lend themselves to limited scope. Parents of special needs children may not be able to hire an attorney for full service advocacy. However, their chances of obtaining the assistance their child needs are increased dramatically if they have competent coaching and document assistance at key points in the administrative process. Virtually any administrative process is potentially a good candidate for limited scope. A good rule of thumb is that areas of law where the individual consumer interacts with the legal or administrative process is a potential for limited scope, assuming that all of the four rules [link] are satisfied.
    5. Note that once you start doing a significant amount of limited scope representation, that part of your practice is likely to grow quickly. Most limited scope litigants are extremely happy with their experience, tell their friends about it, and spread the word.
  38. I’m a pro bono recruiter. Why should I care about this? Anyone who has tried to recruit a lawyer to volunteer for a messy custody case knows how hard it is to obtain such an open ended commitment. However, if you can promise a finite commitment of time and resources, it is much easier to get a volunteer to agree to undertake representation pro bono. And once they do this, they generally find it so satisfying that they are inclined to undertake more.  Many experienced limited scope attorneys report that these are their most satisfying cases and favorite clients. If you want to get this going in your jurisdiction, one way to start is to sponsor a training. By offering training to members of the private bar, you are not only giving them the skills they need to successfully volunteer for your pro bono program: you are also giving them skills that they can take out into the marketplace. For a free Training of Trainers, including all materials and speakers notes, go to [link]
  39. How do I make sure I get out of the case after my part is done? If the services you perform require you to make a court appearance, you should be scrupulous about filing a notice of withdrawal or substitution of attorney (or whatever exit document is used in your jurisdiction) to put the court, the opposing party, and your own client on notice of the fact that your professional involvement has ended. If you are doing document preparation, research, strategy, procedural advice, or other work which does not involve a court appearance, you should document the termination of your services. The risk management materials [link] include a sample closing letter. You should send the client written notice documenting the fact that you believe the tasks for which you were engaged are now completed and inviting them to let you know immediately if they do not agree. If the entire matter isn’t concluded, it is good practice to remind them of upcoming deadlines that they will have to meet. The issue is grayer where the client is just periodically consulting with you. This is very common. A client will consult on an issue, and seek advice on what to do next. You may be giving them procedural advice. Once that step has been completed, they will come back for advice on the next step, and so on. The client will consult with you on an “as needed” basis and sometimes months will go by before the client reappears. If you haven’t heard from the client in a while, a friendly inquiry about whether they need any more information from you may be in order. In any event, you should always have an exit strategy.
  40. Where can I find resources? The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has a rich resource library [link], as does the Self  Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) [link]. Look to the resources [link] page of this website for additional links.


FAQ – Judge’s Corner

  1. I’m a judge: why should I care? Any judge who has handled a docket with a high volume of self represented litigants knows the burden it places on the courts, staff, and limited resources. Incorrect pleadings or lack of proper service waste court time as a matter must be continued to a later date to allow it to be done properly. The wasted court time can never be recovered. Every time a litigant goes to a filing window and is turned away for procedural errors, valuable clerk time is diverted from other duties. Sloppy or incomplete pleadings make it more difficult for judges to elicit the facts they need to make appropriate rulings on the merits.
  2. Misleading the court? Anybody who has seen a lot of court pleadings will likely be able to tell immediately if a lawyer has been involved in the drafting. Lay people don’t write like lawyers. They don’t know what facts are relevant and what is simply irrelevant venting. Judges in high volume courts usually welcome well drafted pleadings which comply with applicable procedures, since it makes their job so much easier. Check the rules in your jurisdiction about whether ghostwriting must be disclosed [link].
  3. Won’t this complicate court proceedings if an attorney is in for part of a case and out for the rest? As a judge, you are always in charge of your own court proceedings. Only you can decide whether it is better to have an attorney for the more complicated part, than to have no attorney at all. The alternative isn’t between a full service lawyer and a limited scope lawyer: it is between a limited scope lawyer and no lawyer. If you decide that some assistance from a lawyer will make the case go more smoothly, you can bifurcate issues for early hearing, or hear the part the lawyer is involved in first, excuse the lawyer, and then proceed with the pro se litigant.  It generally doesn’t work if you are switching back and forth between the limited scope lawyer and the pro se litigant, but if the proceeding lends itself to a sequential division, the disruption is minimal. And if you decide the disruption is not compensated for by the presence of counsel for part of the proceeding, you always have the ability to control the processes in your courtroom.
  4. Why can’t I just order the lawyer to stay in for the rest of the case? While you may technically have the ability to do so, expanding the scope of the limited scope lawyer is the fastest way to ensure that you will be dealing with more pro se litigants in the future. Lawyers won’t come back to your court on limited scope if they fear that you will not respect the limitation. If the issue you want them to address is outside their scope, they pay be unprepared to address it, and doing so would constitute an ethical violation of the rule of competence: even if they would be competent to handle that issue in other circumstances, if they believed it was outside the scope, they may be unprepared, and therefore not competent at this time. If you don’t respect limitations on scope, lawyers won’t do it in your court and, as a result, you will be dealing with a greater number of sloppy pleadings, unprepared litigants, procedural and other irregularities, all to the detriment of your smooth running court.
  5. Are there things I can do to encourage lawyers to offer limited scope in my court? Yes. There’s an excellent piece called “20 Things a Judge Can Do to Encourage Limited Scope Representation” [link] which the California Judicial Council published in the state Judge’s magazine in 2003. The most important thing you can do is assure the lawyers that you will respect the limitation on scope that they and their client have agreed to, and not expand the scope even though it would make your job easier in the short run to do so. Also, assure them that you will let them out of the case once their agreed part is done.
  6. What about ordering a limited scope lawyer to draft the order after a hearing? Often a lawyer will come into a case for a single hearing, and will want to be relieved immediately after it concludes. It is unlikely that a pro se will draft a sufficient order after a hearing in which s/he has been represented by counsel. If it would be the lawyer’s responsibility to draft the order after hearing, there is nothing wrong with making a record that the lawyer is relieved as soon as the order is filed. That is a natural consequence of appearance at a hearing and doesn’t unreasonably expand the scope to other aspects of the case.

FAQ – Client’s Corner

  • How do I know if it is right for me?
  • Why do I have to tell my lawyer about other issues I don’t want to hire him for?