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Practice Points With Mark Scruggs - “Limited Scope” Representations

by Mark Scruggs |

Legal services are expensive, and many would-be clients cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Thus, there should be a way for a client to hire a lawyer to do only the parts of the client’s legal matter that require a lawyer’s skill and knowledge while the client performs other tasks. Fortunately, there is.

“A lawyer may limit the scope of their representation of a client as long as the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances.” Rule 1.2 (c). We sometimes refer to a limited scope representation as “unbundling” of legal services. While limited scope representations can benefit the client and the lawyer, lawyers should not enter into them lightly. Limited scope representations can give rise to malpractice claims, and lawyers should carefully consider whether such a relationship is in the best interests of the client and the lawyer. Some legal matters lend themselves to a limited scope representation. Some do not. Some clients are well-suited to a limited scope representation; it would not be a good idea for others. Before agreeing to a limited scope representation, a lawyer should evaluate both the case and the client to determine if a limited scope representation would be suitable.

Here are my recommendations for a successful limited scope representation.

  • Make sure the limited scope representation is reasonable under the circumstances. Rule 1.2(c). For example, if the client wants to retain you to provide general information about the law to handle their medical malpractice case, such a limited scope representation would probably not be reasonable. While this might seem an extreme example, there are many situations for which a proposed limited scope representation might not be suitable and which might subject the lawyer to a malpractice claim if the client mishandles the matter.
  • Determine that both the case and the client are well-suited to a limited scope representation. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Can this case be divided into specific steps and tasks that the client and I can perform separately?
  • Does the client have the ability (knowledge, skill, temperament) to handle the parts of the case that I am not handling?
  • Will the client follow my instructions? Do they have the ability to understand basic legal terms and follow my instructions?
  • Is the client able to communicate in English and speak effectively on their own in court?
  • Does the client have access to a computer for e-filing and preparing typed documents?
  • Do I believe the client has a reasonable chance of prevailing if I agree to a limited scope representation?
  • Define the scope of the representation in writing. Spell out what you will do and, perhaps more important, what you are not going to do. Finally, spell out what the client will do. You may want to develop an Attorney/Client Checklist identifying the services or tasks to be performed by you and the client. Attach the Attorney/Client Checklist as an addendum to the limited scope representation agreement so that if there is a re-allocation of services or tasks, you can revise the addendum without re-doing the entire contract.
  • Terminate the attorney-client relationship in writing. When you have fulfilled your obligations under the Limited Scope Representation, terminate the attorney-client relationship in writing. Advise the client what services or tasks you have completed, that any other tasks are the client's responsibility, and that you will take no further action on the client’s behalf. Advise the client that any further assistance will require a new engagement agreement.

About the Author

Mark Scruggs

Mark Scruggs is senior claims counsel with Lawyers Mutual specializing in litigation, workers compensation and family law matters. You can reach Mark at 800.662.8843 or at mscruggs@lawyersmutualnc.com.

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