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Ethical Considerations of Limited Scope Representation
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP

Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP

Limited Scope Representation (LSR) is an agreement between an attorney and a client to perform some, but not all, aspects of the client’s legal matter. Also known as unbundled legal services, this arrangement permits the client to engage a lawyer to perform only those services the client cannot, or prefers not to handle. This arrangement saves the client money, allowing access to legal services for many more clients who do not qualify for legal aid services, but cannot afford to hire an attorney to handle all aspects of a legal matter.

Of course, LSR will not be appropriate for every matter, or for every client. While some areas of law, such as family and estate planning, may provide opportunities for unbundling legal services, other areas of law, perhaps criminal law, may not be appropriate. Ultimately, it is up to the attorney to determine whether the LSR is reasonable, given the circumstances. 

Although the attorney is only engaged to perform a limited portion of the services of the legal matter, the attorney must do the following, in writing:

  • Ensure the client understands the difference between the limited services the client is requesting and full service representation
  • Ensure the client understands the limits of the services the attorney is providing
  • Ensure the client understands and accepts her responsibility for all other steps and deadlines required to complete the legal matter
  • Provide guidance and assistance to the client about the legal process and decisions the client must make after the attorney’s representation has ended, including specific, detailed instructions for the client to follow to complete the matter
  • Advise client of the existence of any related issues

Law firms offering LSR must conduct their usual conflicts searches. Conflict rules apply to the entire legal matter, not just the portion the attorney will be handling.

LSR does not limit the attorney’s liability for the scope of the attorney’s involvement. However, the attorney must comply with the items listed above, including advising of related issues, even if the client does not request that information. 

LSR provides many opportunities for paralegals to assist. Paralegals may be involved in drafting a form agreement for limited service representation, and revising that form at the attorney’s direction for a particular client. Paralegals may also assist with client intake and identifying clients for which LSR may be appropriate. In addition to the LSR agreement, paralegals may prepare checklists for use by the attorney and support staff to track tasks and completion dates. These checklists may be provided to the client as an update of the status of the legal matter. Paralegals may also prepare checklists, instructions, and other information, reviewed and approved by the attorney, for the client to use when handling the portion of the legal matter that are not the responsibility of the attorney. Sample form agreements and checklists are available online which may be used as a starting point. 

LSR still requires and creates an attorney-client relationship. Paralegals may not conduct the intake and then make the determination of the scope of the LSR. The requirements outlined above are the responsibility of the attorney and may not be delegated.

If the LSR agreement will include representing the client before a court or agency, the paralegal should work with the attorney to confirm the court will permit the attorney to handle only a portion of the legal matter. The paralegal may also assist the attorney with submitting an appropriate form to the court (e.g., withdrawal or substitution of counsel) when the attorney’s involvement ends.

Clients often ask paralegals to provide information, including legal advice. However, when a client has responsibility for handling some of the tasks for a legal matter, the client may turn to the paralegal for additional guidance, or request the paralegal perform those tasks. Since LSR agreements draw a bright line around the limits of the attorney’s representation, paralegals should be prepared to explain to the client why they cannot assist beyond the scope of the agreement. In those situations, it may be necessary to remind the client of the terms of the agreement and refer them to checklists, instructions, and other materials that were provided. Any changes to the agreement, particularly those that expand the scope of the representation, must be in writing and adhere to the requirements of the original agreement. 

Paralegals may assist with documenting the end of the attorney-client relationship. This is another requirement for LSR and is critical, especially when the attorney’s representation of the client has ended but the legal matter has not concluded. If the legal matter is ongoing, it is advisable to include reminders to the client of any outstanding deadlines. Concluding the attorney-client relationship may include notifying the court.

When appropriate for the legal matter, attorney, and client, LSR is one way for attorneys to serve more clients, while keeping fees and expenses more affordable. LSR is one method of making legal services more accessible to more members of the community.  

 

Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP, is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Paralegal Division and a past president of the Division. She is a frequent speaker on paralegal ethics and intellectual property and the lead author of the Division’s Paralegal Ethics Handbook published by Thomson Reuters.

If you have any questions regarding any ethical issue, please contact the Professional Ethics Committee.

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Originally published in the Texas Paralegal Journal © Copyright 2017 by the Paralegal Division, State Bar of Texas.


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