Limited Scope Representation


Last year in Indiana, nearly two-thirds of all civil litigants represented themselves in the court system. Limited scope representation can help these people get legal assistance without having to pay for a lawyer to represent them through the entire case.

Limited scope representation, also known as 'unbundled legal services' is an efficient way for clients with limited resources or for clients who want to handle a case on their own, to obtain the services of an attorney. This arrangement allows the client to contract a lawyer to assist with only certain parts of a case. This could include legal research, preparation of a motion, petition, or letter, appearance at a hearing, as well as many other legal tasks. Limited scope representation also offers the attorney the opportunity to capture business that they likely would not have otherwise gotten. At the end of the day, the client gets the legal services they need, the attorney gets some revenue, and the court system benefits from having these, still pro se parties, more prepared and ready for court, thus increasing efficiency.

Limited scope representation is somewhat new and yet it isn't. In 2011, the court’s rule change came in a series of orders issued Sept. 20 revising trial, evidentiary, appellate practice and other aspects of statewide court rules. Specifically, the court changed Trial Procedure Rule 3.1(I) dealing with appearances, indicating that an attorney must initially file a notice of temporary or limited representation and then at the end of service file a notice of completion with the local court clerk. Section H involving withdrawal of representation is also changing to reflect this shift, requiring that trial courts grant an attorney’s withdrawal motion unless a jurist finds it is not reasonable or consistent with efficient administration of justice.

These trial rules compliment the existing Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2, which went into effect in 2004 and generally allows lawyers to limit their scope and representation as long as it’s reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent. That is based on a model crafted by the American Bar Association about 10 years ago and adopted to some degree by most states.

Rule 1.2. Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer

(c) A lawyer may limit the scope and objectives of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.

Agreements Limiting Scope of Representation

[6] The scope of services to be provided by a lawyer may be limited by agreement with the client or by the terms under which the lawyer's services are made available to the client. When a lawyer has been retained by an insurer to represent an insured, for example, the representation may be limited to matters related to the insurance coverage. A limited representation may be appropriate because the client has limited objectives for the representation. In addition, the terms upon which representation is undertaken may exclude specific means that might otherwise be used to accomplish the client's objectives. Such limitations may exclude actions that the client thinks are too costly or that the lawyer regards as repugnant, unethical, or imprudent.

[7] Although this Rule affords the lawyer and client substantial latitude to limit the representation, the limitation must be reasonable under the circumstances. If, for example, a client's objective is limited to securing general information about the law the client needs in order to handle a common and typically uncomplicated legal problem, the lawyer and client may agree that the lawyer's services will be limited to a brief telephone consultation. Such a limitation, however, would not be reasonable if the time allotted was not sufficient to yield advice upon which the client could rely. Although an agreement for a limited representation does not exempt a lawyer from the duty to provide competent representation, the limitation is a factor to be considered when determining the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. See Rule 1.1.

[8] All agreements concerning a lawyer's representation of a client must accord with the Rules of Professional Conduct and other law. See, e.g., Rules 1.1, 1.8 and 5.6.

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