The cost of hiring a lawyer in the United States increases every year, making it difficult for the average person to receive quality legal representation. In some cases, the fees are simply too high for many people to afford. This leaves people either seeking pro bono legal services or forced to attempt to defend themselves in court. While pro bono services are often effective means of representation, it is often not guaranteed that someone can even receive these services or that the representation will be professionally competent. This leaves people who are in need of legal services in search of various ways to cut their legal bills, while at the same time receiving effective legal representation.
Bundled Legal Services and the Difficulties Affording Them
A lawyer’s services generally are considered to be bundled. In other words, when you hire an attorney, it cover all aspects of the engagement, including drafting, communications and the actual hearing should there be one. Typically, obtaining legal services means that your attorney will represent you in all matters that arise. In a full scope representation, the lawyer represents you for a fee until you tell that lawyer that they are no longer representing you. This type of arrangement is more often than not an hourly arrangement, but some lawyers will handle matters for a fixed-fee.
When you obtain full-scope representation, the only way to make it more affordable is to obtain a fee reduction from the lawyer or get the legal services for free. For lawyers, it is a marketing decision whether to cut their fee, but many lawyers are hesitant to do so. However, pro bono legal services are generally available to the more destitute clients. Most people do not qualify for pro bono legal services since they simply make too much money. Still, that does not mean that those people can afford to pay for full scope representation. At the same time, lawyers in many cases are hesitant to reduce their fees since that inherently reduces their income, and they have other clients who are willing and able to pay the full fees.
What is Limited Scope Representation?
This leaves many people searching for alternatives when it comes to obtaining legal services. There is one alternative available that can enable you to hire a competent lawyer without having to seek a fee reduction. At the same time, you will still receive quality legal representation from a lawyer who is under a professional obligation to provide it. This option is called a limited scope representation. It is a viable option when you do not need a lawyer to handle a full case.
When you hire an attorney a limited scope representation, you are receiving unbridled legal services. You can think of a limited scope representation as obtaining legal services a la carte. In other words, you are hiring an attorney for one specific part of a case or discrete legal engagement. This is also known as discrete task representation and enables clients to engage in self-help while still receiving counsel from a lawyer in a part of the engagement where the client may not be able to help themselves.
For example, if you have a custody hearing in a family law matter, you may not need a lawyer to handle the entire matter. Hiring a lawyer to draft a complaint may add hundreds, and possibly thousands of dollars to your legal bill. You may feel comfortable drafting the complaint on your own, but are apprehensive to argue your case in court. Or, alternatively, you are comfortable going in front of the judge, but need help in drafting and filing the papers because each court has rules that must be exactly followed. In that event, you could hire a lawyer for a limited scope representation. The lawyer would handle one part of the case while you are able to represent yourself for the rest of the case. In most cases of limited scope representation, the lawyer is helping the client prepare for the case and is not entering an appearance on behalf of the client.
While family law is the typical example that is given as the prime type of case for limited scope representation, it is also suitable for other types of cases. Bankruptcy is another area where you may need help with the filing and the papers, but then you can handle the process of filing it with the court on your own. Many bankruptcy cases are routine once you put together the initial papers. Another example of a suitable type of proceeding is a landlord-tenant matter.
When Should You Get Limited Scope Representation?
A limited scope representation may be suitable for natters that are not complex legal engagements. For example, if you have an uncontested divorce, it could reduce your costs if you obtained a limited scope representation. Your lawyer could be retained to help negotiate the marital separation agreement and you could do the rest of what is required to file the agreement with the court. Really, any piece of your legal matter can be given to an attorney as a discrete part of the case if the overall case is not overly complex.
Limited scope representations can cover legal research, discovery, drafting a motion or anything else where you feel that you need an attorney’s help. There may be some key area of the case where you need professional expertise, even though you cannot or do not want to spend the full amount that legal services would cost. A limited scope representation can also take on the form of the lawyer acting as a consultant and telling you the best way to handle your own case or advising you of the court’s procedures that you must follow. As mentioned below, it is possible to obtain limited scope representation in most legal matters, but you and your lawyer may not be allowed to decide on your own whether the matter is suitable for limited scope representation.
State Rules Govern this Type of Representation
If you are considering a limited scope representation, it is vitally important that you check your state’s rules first. Each state has different rules that govern the practice of law. A lawyer must be familiar with these rules in order to practice law in that state. States have varying rules regarding a limited scope representation. This is an increasingly more important area that state bar associations are now paying plenty of attention to given their recent popularity.
Most states either allow limited scope representations or allow these arrangements subject to certain procedures or notices being given to the client. For example, Florida permits limited scope representation provided that the client gives informed consent after learning of the facts and the risks. Other states require a signed written agreement that governs the scope of the representation. Even if the state does not require the signed agreement, it is always a good idea to have one. Certain states will not permit limited scope representation for certain types of actions. For example, in the District of Columbia, you cannot obtain limited scope representation when the matter involves a jury trial. Florida specifically spells it out in its rules that limited scope representation is permitted foR family law matters.
The Representation Agreement
As mentioned above, you will almost always need a specific agreement to obtain limited scope representation. The agreement will state exactly what the scope of the lawyer’s representation is. The agreement should also be very clear on what the lawyer will not be doing. You will likely see a long series of tasks on the agreement, with the tasks that the lawyer is performing explicitly checked. The other tasks that the lawyer is not doing should also be explicitly disclaimed. This is important because it will protect the lawyer from any future claim of malpractice if a problem arises in the area where they are not representing you. Do not be surprised if, during the course of your engagement, the lawyer is very vigilant about making sure that they are not performing tasks that are not a part of your representation. This not only results from financial considerations, but from malpractice considerations as well.
It is important to remember that, when you have a limited scope representation, the other party or their lawyer is able to contact you directly. Normally, a party that is represented by a lawyer is not allowed to be contacted directly, but when your representation is limited, it is as if you are not represented when it comes to the regular back and forth with the other party. This is one area where full-scope representation is more beneficial since it saves you from the hassle of the day-to-day interactions.
Types of Fee Arrangements
When you enter into a limited scope representation, in many cases you will have the option to enter into a flat-fee agreement. In other words, whatever service the lawyer is providing will cost one price and will not exceed that price. Some lawyers will still want to charge you on an hourly basis for the service that they are providing. In any event, your legal bill for limited scope representation will be lower than it would be otherwise.
Suitability for You
When you are deciding whether to obtain limited scope representation, you must think about whether your particular case is suitable for this type of counsel. While some cases lend themselves well to limited scope representation, not all types of cases are suitable for this. If your matter is complex, you are better off obtaining full legal representation. The lawyer that you consult should be able to give you input on whether limited scope representation is suitable for you. They have the obligation to tell you if it is not and should not take your case on this basis if it is not the right option for you. As mentioned above, each state has rules that a lawyer just follow and they cannot simply just act in their own interests when deciding whether to accept the representation.
At the same time, a lawyer will need to give you an honest and accurate assessment of the risks and the benefits of this approach. While the obvious benefit is the money that it saves, there are risks with proceeding with limited scope representation. The main risk is the fact that you are not represented by counsel and may not have the professional expertise to handle everything else on your own.
Benefits of Limited Scope Representation
Limited scope representation makes legal representation accessible for those who otherwise could not have obtained the help of a lawyer. This opens up options for low and moderate income individuals who need legal assistance. Limited scope representation also helps the court system in general because pro se litigants can often slow down the court system since they are unaware of various rules and procedures. By obtaining this representation, pro se litigants obtain a professional’s legal judgment for less than they ordinarily would have paid. However, this does not mean that you will be getting a sale price on a lawyer’s services because you will only be getting the services that you pay for, which may not be discounted in any way. You are just avoiding paying for services that you may not necessarily need or that you can do yourself.
This practice is helpful because the overwhelming majority of litigants go into court unrepresented by counsel in spite of their right to obtain counsel. They just simply cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Pro bono legal services are not as well funded as they were in past and are more scarce. In many instances, they are reserved for the most indigent, and working class people cannot obtain those services. For lawyers, limited scope representations help them access clients that they otherwise could not have accessed since they would not have spent money on a lawyer.
For the right type of case, with a fitting and well-documented agreement, limited scope representation can help your case immeasurably. You must know ahead of time exactly what type of legal services that you would be receiving before you make an informed decision whether to enter into this type of arrangement.