Still Haven’t Considered Incorporating Limited Scope Representation in Your Program? You Should!

In today’s challenging financial climate pro bono managers continue to struggle with encouraging attorneys to volunteer for their pro bono panels. Potential volunteers may shy away from the perceived protracted commitment of becoming involved in a pro bono case. Unbundling, or limited scope representation, offers a useful tool to both assist potential clients in need and provide an opportunity for lawyers to volunteer with a reduced time commitment. Assisting a client with just one portion of their case can also provide volunteer attorneys an initial experience that is so positive they become interested in taking lengthier or more difficult cases in the future.

It is important to follow a few basic principles to avoid potential pitfalls to limited scope representation and ensure the best experience for the client and the volunteer. The Practising Law Institute (PLI) offers a free, on-demand, webinar[1] fully addressing the potential of limited scope representation. This program includes materials with checklists, samples and a useful discussion about relevant ethical considerations. A few highlights of issues to consider:

Know Your Local Rules

Each state has different practice rules regarding limited scope representation. The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has compiled a list of limited scope rules by state

Have a Proper Limited Scope Retainer Agreement

It is important that the client be fully informed regarding the boundaries of the representation and that a specifically tailored retainer agreement that addresses those boundaries is singed. If the scope of the representation changes during the course of the case a new retainer should be drawn that redefines the volunteer’s commitment.

Understand the Ethical Concerns Specific to Limited Scope Representation

As mentioned before, clients should be fully informed of what a limited scope agreement means and what it entails. Clients should fully understand when the representation will end prior to beginning the relationship and should be clear that they will not have assistance throughout the entirety of the case. The limitation must be reasonable under the circumstances and clients must be advised on non-related issues such as statutes of limitations even if they do not ask. A full discussion of ethical concerns is included in the free PLI webinar.

Be Sure to Select Clients Appropriate for Limited Scope Services

Not every client is appropriate for limited scope representation, especially in the pro bono context. Good clients should be organized, businesslike and able to follow instructions among other things. Working with clients who have unrealistic expectations, do not easily comprehend their personal responsibilities outside of the limited scope or who will not listen to the attorney’s assessment of the law are not ideal candidates and will only create frustration for your volunteers.

Although there are many more tips and tools available regarding limited scope representation, this is not an exhaustive list. There is a wealth of free information on how best to use the practice and a great opportunity to create new volunteer opportunities. Many pro bono programs have been utilizing this model for some time now and have had much success in extending the reach of access to justice for the poor, despite tough economic times. If you have not yet considered it, the time is now.

 ~ Adrienne Packard


[1] The Limited Scope Webinar is presented by M. Sue Talia, a nationally recognized expert on limited scope representation and former chair of the Limited Representation Committee of the California Commission on Access to Justice.

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