Limited Scope Representation: Pros and Cons

What Is Limited Scope Representation?

One of the services Cooledge Law offers is limited scope representation. Limited scope representation, also known as “unbundling,” can be a valuable option for some clients, yet may not be appropriate for others. The California courts describe limited scope representation as “when you and a lawyer agree that the lawyer will handle some parts of your case and you will handle others.” This differs from the traditional attorney-client relationship where the attorney provides services on all aspects of a case from start to finish. More information on limited scope representation in general is available online at http://www.courts.ca.gov/1085.htm.

Examples of Limited Scope Representation

Some examples of limited-scope arrangements are the following (taken from the California Courts website cited above):

  • You can hire a lawyer for a consultation only, and get legal information and advice on an “as-needed” basis.

  • You can hire the lawyer to represent you on certain issues in the case, while you do the rest yourself.

  • You can hire the lawyer to prepare the legal documents (e.g., complaint, answer, demurrer, etc.), but file them yourself and represent yourself at the hearings.

  • The converse of the above: you can prepare and file the documents yourself, and hire the lawyer to represent you in court.

  • You can hire the lawyer to coach you on how to represent yourself at court hearings or other legal proceedings.

  • You can hire the lawyer to help you prepare the evidence that you will present in court.

  • You can hire the lawyer to help you with more complicated or time-consuming parts of the case, such as legal research or responding to discovery, while you perform the simpler tasks yourself.

Although this arrangement is somewhat non-traditional, it is recognized by the California court system (see above), and appears to be increasingly popular overall. In the modern economy, many clients find that the traditional arrangement, where the client pays the lawyer a retainer of several thousand dollars (or more) in advance, simply does not work for them.

Is Limited Scope Representation Right For You?

If you’re considering hiring an attorney on a limited scope basis, it’s important to make sure you understand the pros and cons, so that you can decide whether this is a good value for you.

There are several advantages of this kind of arrangement:

  • The main advantage is a big one: money. Limited scope representation is typically more affordable, and allows more financial flexibility.

  • It allows you a greater degree of control over your case.

  • It allows you to hire a lawyer only for the thing you actually need help with, if you are confident you can handle the rest yourself.

  • You can have a lawyer perform individual tasks before you commit to hiring the lawyer. This can be a useful “test drive” to see if you’re happy with the lawyer’s work.

  • It may make it easier to get a second opinion.

  • Hiring a lawyer is an important decision, and some clients feel more comfortable making less of an initial commitment to an attorney-client relationship.

There are also some disadvantages:

  • The main one is the converse of one important "pro," and really depends on how you view the matter overall. Here it is: you remain responsible for the overall case. This means limited scope representation is typically not well suited for a client who would rather not spend his or her time and effort on the matter, does not know precisely what tasks need to be done in the case, is not sure about an overall strategy, or does not wish to claim responsibility for the outcome.

  • There may not be an attorney of record, meaning you will have to keep track of court dates, deadlines, notices, and so forth. Mistakes in these areas can have severe consequences.

  • It may not be a good fit if you are not comfortable communicating with the other side.

  • Lawyers do a great deal of work “behind the scenes.” If you are not entirely sure what a lawyer does on a given case day to day and week to week, you may want to think twice before deciding you don’t need it.

  • If you are a corporation, you should be aware that a corporation is not allowed to represent itself in pro per. A corporation is required to have a lawyer in order to sue or defend a lawsuit.

  • Some types of cases are complicated and may not be a good fit for limited scope representation (or representing yourself in general). For a list by the California courts of these types of cases, see http://www.courts.ca.gov/1076.htm#Types_of_cases_where_lawyers_are_necessary. As an example, you may be comfortable representing yourself in court on a minor infraction, but medical malpractice or construction defect litigation are likely not well suited to a “do it yourself” approach.

If you are considering hiring a lawyer on a limited scope basis, don't hesitate to contact us today!


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