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Limited Scope Representation

Information for the Legal Services Consumer


Disclaimer:  The materials provided on this website are provided for general information only.  It presents some considerations that might be helpful in deciding if you should consider limited scope representation in your case.  It is not intended as legal advice or opinion.  It is not intended to establish a standard of care for the practice of law.  There is no guarantee that the information or guidelines will improve your decision making regarding legal services.  Legal consumers have different needs and requirements.  Individual cases demand individual treatment.  You are responsible for decisions involving your case. 
What is limited scope representation ("LSR")? 

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 between lawyers and clients 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". Here are some examples of limited scope arrangements:

  • Consult lawyer and get legal information and advice about your case when you need it.
  • Hiring the lawyer to represent you on certain issues in your case - like a parenting plan agreement - while you do the rest yourself.
  • You can hire a lawyer to represent you at hearings or help you prepare evidence and coach you on how to properly submit evidence to the court.
  • You can 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. 

When you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to represent you in all parts of your case, limited scope representation can offer you a chance to have legal help within your budget. Many 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.

Limited scope representation is somewhat new in some areas of Montana, and some courts and lawyers may not be very familiar with it. But more and more lawyers are willing to take on limited scope cases and more judges are becoming familiar with these arrangements. 

Consider whether limited scope representation right for you.

When trying to decide if you should consider limited scope representation, you should:

  • 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 looked for possible or hidden complications. 
  • Determine 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 he or she will know things you do not about the legal process. It is impossible for the lawyer to teach you everything he or she knows. 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.
  • Determine if your case has a lot of technical issues or is very time-sensitive.  This includes things like deciding if you have the time to put into educating yourself and effectively handling many of the tasks that you need to do or if there is a lot at stake in your case.  For instance, if you lose, could you lose your home, lose rights to see your children, or owe a lot of money?
Consider hiring a lawyer if.....
  • You have a complicated case or a case that may become complicated (but keep in mind you may not always realize a case is or could be complicated without talking to a lawyer).
  • You want legal advice.
  • You want to discuss strategies for your case, like where to file your lawsuit, whether to file a response, whether to ask for a jury, and many other decisions that will come up during the case.
  • You want a confidential attorney-client relationship.
  • You are worried that the other side will not play fair (a lawyer is more likely to notice this and know what to do).
  • You are going to have a jury trial, and there are complicated decisions to make, from choosing a jury to knowing how to present a case to a jury most effectively.
  • You are too close emotionally to the case and have a hard time seeing things objectively.
Limited scope representation can often also be a better alternative to 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. He or 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 you be distracted by other issues and emotions.
  • A lawyer can identify or help you examine potential problems or hidden complications early on, so you can avoid making a costly mistake.
Working with a limited scope lawyer

You and the lawyer should have an in-depth discussion about all the aspects of your case, and agree on who is responsible for what.

Some of the issues you need to work out with the lawyer are:

Who will decide on the strategy?

Who will gather what information?

Who will prepare the information for the court?

Who will draft documents for the court?

Who will appear at court proceedings and settlement conferences?

Who will negotiate with the other side?

In making decisions about these issues, remember that the lawyer has the education and experience to work on the more technical parts of your case, guide you throughout the court process, and spot important legal issues that you may not see on your own.

You and the limited scope lawyer will be working as a team, but it is your case. If you and the lawyer cannot agree on who should take on which parts of the case, or on decisions that need to be made in your case, you should listen to what the lawyer says. If the lawyer feels strongly that the course you want to take is not in your best interests, listen carefully to the reasons why he or she is recommending you do something differently.

But, in the end, it is your case, your decision and your responsibility. You have the right to disregard the lawyer's advice, but if the case does not turn out the way you hoped, you have to be willing to accept the responsibility for your decision.

In order to assess whether or not to sue, you should always consult with a lawyer.

Contracts in limited scope cases

Your contract for services with a lawyer is usually referred to as a "Retainer Agreement".  Make sure your Agreement with the limited scope lawyer is very clear and outlines carefully what the attorney will do for you for your case.  Make sure the Agreement is in writing.  If anything changes, you can always agree to expand or change the scope of representation at a later time as long as you both agree. If you change the scope of representation, you should also change the Agreement in writing.

Your contract should be very clear on what the lawyer will and will not be doing, as well as what you, the client, will be doing. The contract should also clearly specify how you will be charged and your fee arrangement. The clearer you are, the more likely you are to avoid any misunderstandings.

Before you sign, make sure you understand everything in the agreement and the risks of limited scope representation.

Risks of representing yourself
  • The biggest risk is that you lose your case because (1) you are unable to follow all the required procedures to bring your case to trial so your case is dismissed, or (2) once you get to trial, you cannot meet all the technical requirements to prove your case.
  • If you lose your case, the judge may order you to pay for the other side's court costs and attorney's fees, which can be a lot of money. Sometimes the costs of suing are more than the amount sued for.