Limited scope representation, also known as unbundled legal services and discrete task representation, is a method of legal representation in which attorney and client agree to limit the attorney’s involvement in a civil lawsuit, leaving responsibility for other parts of the case to the client in order to save money and give them more control.
Michigan began exploring limited scope representation (LSR) in 2010 with creation of the Self-Help Task Force. The launch of Michigan Legal Help online and in-person self-help centers in 2012 providing furthered the push for meaningful LSR in the state. When the State Bar of Michigan 21st Century Practice Task Force issued its final report in April 2016, one recommendations was to “implement a high-quality, comprehensive limited-scope representation system, including guidelines, attorney and client education, rules and commentary, and court forms focusing on civil cases.”
By June of 2016, the SBM Committee on Justice Initiatives convened summit comprised of representatives from the bench, court staff, legal services providers, private attorneys, access to justice advocates, and community partners. At the close of the summit, the Bar created an Unbundling Work Group that drafted limited-scope court and ethics rules that were later adopted by the SBM Representative Assembly and the Michigan Supreme Court.
Michigan is now one of more than 30 states that has adopted ethics and court rules providing for unbundling of legal services in a civil action.
The LSR court procedure and ethics rules, which became effective in 2018, essentially allow lawyers to:
- Ghostwrite without entering an appearance or signing the document
- Limit the scope of the legal work after consulting with the client
- Enter and withdraw appearances by filing notice and serving it on parties.
Lawyers: Limited scope representation is beneficial for new lawyers, those who want to practice part-time, and those winding down from years of practice. LSR helps attorneys access self-represented clients, increasing their revenue and growing their practice.
Clients: Clients who benefit from LSR generally make too much money to qualify for legal aid, but cannot afford a full-service attorney. Kimberly Jones, a member of the LSR Education Subgroup who offers legal services on a sliding scale, noted that besides saving money, LSR grants clients more control over process and strategy decisions. It also encourages attorneys and clients to cooperate to resolve the issue.
Courts: Talking about LSR on the SBM On Balance podcast, 29th Circuit Court Judge Michelle Rick explained that courts are overburdened with self-represented litigants who don’t know the court procedures and rely on court staff who can’t give legal advice. Many litigants can’t afford a full-service attorney. With the help of a limited-scope attorney, litigants are better prepared and the courts have fewer delays and more efficient dockets.
If you’re interested in limited scope representation, the State Bar provides a limited scope toolbox and a three-part series of on-demand webinars offered by ICLE in coordination with SBM. The webinars are free. Once you’re trained in LSR, add “Limited Scope Attorney” to your profile in the SBM member directory.
Next week, we will review new LSR rules.
After years practicing law, Roberta Gubbins served as editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides legal content writing for lawyers. She is editor of The Mentor, the SBM Master Lawyers newsletter. Writing as Alexandra Hawthorne, she published a cozy mystery, Murder One in Midvale Corners.
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