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Most people have a general sense of what it means to hire an attorney to represent them in a family law case.  Assuming you hire an attorney for traditional full representation, that attorney is responsible for all aspects of your case and becomes your legal partner every step of the way.  Your attorney gathers facts, provides legal advice, drafts and files pleadings, keeps track of deadlines, performs legal research, attends court with you, speaks on your behalf, corresponds with opposing counsel, and performs any other necessary tasks as part of the legal process for which they were retained.

But what if you cannot afford an attorney to represent you to this extent?  What if you do not want an attorney to represent you in every part of your case?  What if the opposing party does not have an attorney and you are concerned about the effects of hiring an attorney yourself?

It is possible that you can hire an attorney to help you through your family law matter on a limited scope or unbundled basis.  This means that, rather than providing full representation, the attorney and client agree that the attorney will undertake only certain limited tasks and roles.

Examples of such limited scope representation may include: attorney will ghostwrite a motion, attorney will guide a client through a case with consulting services, attorney will review and discuss a proposed settlement offer with client, attorney will attend mediation with client, attorney will assist with preparation for a court hearing, or the attorney might attend one specific hearing in an ongoing case.

Advantages of limited scope legal representation to clients:

  • Client has more control over the scope of the representation.  Perhaps the client does not need or want the attorney to be part of every part of his/her case.
  • Client has more control over the costs of the representation, and the costs are generally lower because the attorney does less.  This can be particularly beneficial for clients with limited resources. 
  • Peace of mind.  Generally, some legal representation is better than none at all.
  • If you are concerned about hiring an attorney because the other party does not have an attorney, an attorney behind the scenes on a limited scope basis may not seem as threatening or intimidating to the other party.
  • A limited scope attorney may assist the parties to keep their case focused and efficient by directing conversations and separating legal issues from the non-legal issues.
  • Settlement can be more informed, more equitable, and more likely because the attorney can assist and advise the client when considering an agreement so the client is more likely to be comfortable and confident in the compromises made and agreements reached.
  • There can be a relatively simple transition to full representation if desired as the case proceeds and circumstances change.
  • Unbundled representation gives the client and attorney a chance to work together and get a sense of their relationship and styles before they may decide to commit to a full representation arrangement.

Risks/pitfalls of limited scope legal representation to clients:

  • Limited scope representation is truly limited.  The attorney does less, which means the client is responsible for more.
  • Clients must understand that unbundled counsel is very different from traditional representation.
  • Limited oversight by attorney.
  • Case management and deadlines are the sole obligation of the litigant (party keeps track of deadlines, court dates, etc., unless otherwise expressly outlined as the role of the attorney).
  • There is potential for confusion between the attorney and client as far as each person’s roles and who is performing a task.
  • A case may not be reasonable or appropriate for unbundled representation.

At Baer Family Law, PLLC, Rebecca offers limited scope representation when appropriate.  Not all cases or situations are a good fit for unbundled legal representation.  It is important that an attorney recognizes this to provide the best, most ethical and competent legal services possible.  If you believe limited scope representation may be right for your case, contact Rebecca to set up your free, confidential consultation.

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Authored by: Rebecca R. Baer, Esq.