What is Limited Scope Representation?

What is Limited Scope Representation? Or Why Limited Scope Representation, AKA Unbundled Services, Matters to You!

If you ever couldn’t hire an attorney because of the costs involved, considering representing yourself in legal/administrative proceedings or you think you may ever need to hire an attorney in the future, keep reading. This post is for you.

They say that an attorney who represents herself has a fool for a client. Having been a fool on more than one occasion, I know first-hand how stressful it is to have to play the role of the plaintiff and attorney simultaneously. Although I was successful in representing myself, I would not have if I found an attorney experienced in the administrative hearings I faced. I also had times when I could not pursue litigation because I couldn’t afford the attorneys’ fees. If you have ever been in a similar situation, limited scope representation may be the answer for you.

Puzzle pieces demonstrating limited scope representation from the WI State Bar on this link,

Puzzle pieces demonstrating limited scope representation from the WI State Bar on this link,

The following has been adapted from the California’s Court online publication, “Limited-Scope Representation” http://www.courts.ca.gov/1085.htm:

Limited scope representation is when you and a lawyer agree that the lawyer will handle some parts of your case and you will handle others. This is different from more traditional arrangements, where a lawyer is hired to provide legal services on all aspects of a case, from start to finish. Limited scope representation is sometimes called “unbundling” or “discrete task representation.” This is a relatively new concept in the legal profession and it may not be offered by many attorneys. The legal profession is based on a lot of tradition and is slow to change with today’s increasingly high tech and information hungry society.

When you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to handle your entire case, limited scope representation can be a great way for you to have legal help with your case while keeping costs down. Courts approve of limited scope representation because they want to encourage people to get as much legal assistance as they need to protect their rights. They know that you will do a better job of following proper court procedures and presenting the important information to them if you have the help of a lawyer during the more complicated parts of a case, than handling the case all by yourself.

Here are some examples of limited scope arrangements:

  • Consult a lawyer and get legal information and advice about your case when you need it.
  • Hire the lawyer to represent you on certain issues in your case (like attend a Special Education IEP meeting) while you do the rest yourself.
  • Hire the lawyer to prepare the forms and other court documents but file them yourself and represent yourself at the hearings.
  • Hire the lawyer to coach you on how to represent yourself at the court hearings and help you prepare the evidence that you will present in court.
  • Hire the lawyer to help you with the more complicated parts of your case, such as discovery and legal research while you do the simpler tasks yourself.

Is a limited scope arrangement right for you?:

  • Discuss your case with a lawyer in depth, including areas that you want to handle yourself. If you do not discuss the whole case with the lawyer, even the parts that you think are simple and want to handle yourself, you will not know if you have overlooked something that is legally important. Once you have had this discussion, you and the lawyer can agree on whether a limited scope arrangement will work for you and your case and you can be comfortable that you have identified any hidden complications.
  • Decide if you are willing to take on full responsibility for those parts of the case you will handle on your own. Remember that the lawyer went to law school and probably has years of experience in this area. That means that she will know things you do not about the legal process. If you instruct your lawyer not to take certain steps, either to save money or because you want to remain in control, you will have the full responsibility for the outcome in the parts of the case you do yourself, even with a lawyer coaching you.

Limited scope representation vs. traditional full representation?:

  • By only paying a lawyer to do those parts of your case that you cannot do yourself, you can save money on legal fees.
  • The lawyer can use his or her time more efficiently by focusing that time on things you cannot effectively do yourself and leaving other more time-consuming tasks to you.
  • You can keep greater control of your case than if the lawyer handles the entire case.
  • Your case has a lot of technical issues or is very time-sensitive.
  • You do not have the time to put into educating yourself and effectively handling many of the tasks that you need to do.
  • There is a lot of stake in your case, so if you lose, you could lose your home, lose rights to see your children, or owe a lot of money.

Limited scope representation vs. representing yourself?:

  • Limited scope representation can often also be a better alternative than representing yourself.
  • Having a lawyer helping you with parts of your case can save you a lot of time and energy because the lawyer can educate you about the process and your specific issues. She can also help you find self-help books and other resources so you can handle the parts of the case when you are on your own.
  • A lawyer, by being more removed from your case than you are, can see things about your case that you cannot. A lawyer can help you focus on the legal issues and on what the court can do for you, and not let yourself be distracted by other issues and emotions.
  • A lawyer can identify potential problems or hidden complications early on, so you can avoid making a costly mistake.

Limited scope representation may be a particularly good option for people with disabilities and moderately income people, or anyone who wants to keep their legal fees down, because it is more cost effective than traditional legal representation based on hourly fees and billable rates that could be $300 or more per hour. If you are interested in seeking limited scope representation in disability law matters in the state of Illinois or California, contact the Disability Law Collective at esther@disabilitylawcollective.com to set up a free thirty minutes consultation about your legal questions.


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