Limited Scope Representation

Traditionally, attorneys are held responsible for all aspects of a client’s legal life, regardless of the matter being handled at the time. Because of this, lawyers have not been willing or able to advise clients on small portions of an ongoing case because of the risk of being held responsible for other parts of the case.

The escalating cost of legal services is pricing many people out of traditional retainer-based legal services and driving them into the courts pro se or in pro per (self-representation). This has clogged the courts with faulty paperwork and confused litigants, increasing the time, effort, and blood pressure required to finish even a simple case. The problem in California is particularly acute in Family Law.

As a result, the State Bar of California recently approved “Limited Scope Representation” as another way of providing legal services to people who do not want, do not need, or cannot afford full legal representation in the traditional manner. Allowing attorneys to unbundle legal services, it limits the scope of an attorney’s responsibility for a case and creates options for a new kind of working relationship.

With Limited Scope Representation, the client-attorney team agrees in advance which issues will be handled by whom. The client can then purchase as much or as little legal advice as they want and pay for the services when they are provided.

  1. Coaching Only
    The attorney coaches the client on specified issues as requested. The client is responsible to move the case forward and file documents on time. Includes legal research, document review, and drafting but no contact with anyone other than the client.
  2. Coaching Plus
    “Coaching Only” plus limited contacts with specified others, such as opposing party or attorney.
  3. Courtroom Only
    Full legal representation is limited to a single specified courtroom issue or event. Includes coaching related to the appearance and contact with the opposing party or attorney as specified. However, the court will not allow this several times in the same case. If a case requires numerous hearings, the court will require full representation.
  4. Full Representation
    Traditional attorney-client representation is where the attorney takes responsibility to move the case forward for all issues.

If a case becomes so complex that it needs more professional management, a client who begins in a limited mode can always switch to the traditional manner and then go back into limited mode.

Because the law is complicated and opponents can be belligerent and determined, not every case qualifies for “LSR”. We are happy to help our clients evaluate whether full representation or one of the LSR options is best for them.

Frequently Asked Questions About Limited Scope Representation and Unbundling of Legal Services

Q: What is unbundling?

A: Unbundling is a way that an attorney can help you with part of your case while you do part of it yourself. For example:

  • You can consult with an attorney to prepare or review your paperwork, but attend the hearing yourself;
  • You can represent yourself through the whole case, and periodically consult with an attorney who can coach you on the law, procedures, and strategy;
  • You can do the preparation yourself and hire an attorney just to make the court appearance for you;
  • You can do your own investigation of the facts (“discovery”) and ask the attorney to assist you in putting the information in a format that is useful to the court;
  • You can ask the attorney to be on “standby” while you attend the settlement conference yourself.

Q: How is this different from using a mediator or paralegal?

A: Paralegals and mediation services can only assist you in simple and uncontested divorces, and then only in the preparation of the paperwork. They cannot give you legal advice.

Q: How will I determine which parts I can do myself and when an attorney’s help will be important?

A: With coaching, you may be able to handle the whole case yourself, except for a few technical areas where the attorney can help you. It really is between you and the attorney how much of your case you hire them to do. If you do this, it is important to keep returning to the same attorney. Otherwise, you’re paying a new person to get up to speed on your case each time that you consult.

Some areas of the law are extremely technical and it is rare for people with legal training to handle them effectively. Among these are pension rights, stock options, and business interests. You will almost certainly need the assistance of an attorney if you have any of these issues in your case.

Q: Why it is important to discuss your case thoroughly with your attorney?

A: It is important to thoroughly discuss all the information and issues related to your case with your attorney before deciding which parts you want to do yourself and which ones the attorney will assist you with. It is equally important to realize that there may be issues presented by your case that you aren’t even aware of. If you don’t make sure to tell your attorney all the important information about your case, how will you know?

Sometimes new issues will pop up after your case is started. If they do, it is important to advise your attorney and discuss them, so that you know the potential legal consequences to you. Remember that your attorney can only advise you on matters you tell him or her about, so it is essential that you provide complete information about your case.

Q: When is my agreement with the attorney finished?

A: You should discuss this question with your attorney, and you should be aware of when the attorney’s part is completed and he or she is no longer working on your case. Be sure to ask your attorney about this question, so there is no misunderstanding.

Communication and Teamwork = Successful Case.

Remember, you and your attorney are working as a team. That means good communication and a clear understanding of each person’s assignments is essential. You will be taking more responsibility for your case than in a traditional attorney-client situation, so you should be willing to raise questions that you aren’t sure about.