Limited Scope Representation – How to Define the Scope of Services?

by | Nov 30, 2017

Limited Scope Representation allows a client to hire an attorney to do some, but not all work, in the case.  Limited Scope Representation is a combination of attorney representation and the client’s self-representation.  It is an opportunity to contain costs by sharing the representation between the client and the attorney.

This post focuses on litigated court cases.

Limited Scope Representation requires the attorney and client to define the specific services the attorney will provide in writing before representation begins. The scope can be as narrowly defined as one service or task. Or, the scope can be defined to include a group of services. Whether one or the other, court cases have predictable deadlines, court dates, and services, which can be predicted when defining the scope of services.

So, when exploring Limited Scope Representation or getting ready to retain a Limited Scope attorney, it is worth investing the time and fees into planning the scope of services, thinking about:

  • if available resources to support you with self-representation for certain tasks makes it worth representing yourself for those tasks;
  • what tasks are better done by an attorney than yourself, because they require skills and education that you may not have;
  • your budget for attorney representation and how, if at all, this impacts when and how to involve an attorney; and,
  • how your goals and budget shape the grouping of limited scope tasks.

First, understand what resources – besides a Limited Scope attorney – are available to assist you on the self-represented tasks and whether it is realistic for you to take advantage of these resources.  For example:

Why hire a limited scope attorney to do work that you can reasonably do yourself with help from other sources?  For example, is it worth hiring a limited scope attorney to draft court documents when online forms and free help are available?  Perhaps, if your situation requires a customized court document or you intend to hire the attorney for full scope representation, but just need time to gather the funds.  Perhaps not, if you have limited funds and really need or want attorney representation at hearings or trials.

Second, consider and identify points in the case when it is important to have attorney representation.  This requires understanding what tasks, deadlines, services, and court appearances occur in a court case.  Once you understand what the court process involves, then think about each part of the process.  For example, can you effectively and competently represent yourself:

  • In court-ordered mediation?
  • At a hearing?
  • At trial?
  • To gather the right kind of evidence and witnesses to prove your case?
  • To present witnesses and evidence so that the court will accept them?

Develop a plan, from the start of the case, about what tasks you want a Limited Scope attorney to handle.  This is important to make sure the attorney is willing to represent, is available, and that the cost of the desired scope of services fits in your budget.

Do not assume that an attorney will accept Limited Scope Representation or representation for the particular services you desire.  Confirm this with the attorney early in the case.

Make sure your Limited Scope attorney is available for the court dates you want her or him to attend.  While you may be able to handle the Scheduling Hearing on your own, it is unrealistic to expect an attorney to provide you with his/her calendar, so it may be necessary to have the attorney attend the Scheduling Hearing to confirm his/her availability for the scheduled dates.

Explore what court documents and hearing or trial dates go together and how to pair them when allocating responsibilities between the attorney and client.  For example, who is responsible for preparing and submitting the financial statement due 10 days before a Pendente Lite Hearing or Trial date?  Who is responsible for preparing any Pre-Trial Statement and Joint Statement of Marital and Non-Marital Property in anticipation of the Settlement/Status or Settlement/Pretrial Hearing?  Who is responsible for updating these before Trial?

Third, develop a litigation budget for how much you can spend on an attorney, which will shape the scope of representation.  For more information about cost and litigation budgeting, please read What Will Litigation Cost? For example, if your budget does not allow for attorney representation at a trial, consider limited scope representation at court-ordered mediation with the goal of settling the case without trial.  Or, seeking attorney preparation for court-ordered services that may have a significant impact on the outcome of the trial, such as a custody evaluation.  Get specific and detailed cost estimates from the attorney for Limited Scope Services, to decide how the cost impacts which services you will select.

At each point in the case (deadlines, court appearances, court filings), evaluate the advantages, disadvantages, and cost of self-representation versus attorney representation.  Be open to changing the scope of representation if self-representation is more work than you expected or not leading to your desired results.  If you think change is needed, act early for a better chance at improving your results.

Fourth, discuss with the attorney your goals for the outcome of the case and budget, evaluating whether Limited Scope Representation can reasonably accomplish your goals within your budget.  If so, carefully define the scope of services over the course of the case.  If not, explore alternatives to Limited Scope Representation and for funding the litigation.  Make sure you clearly understand the defined scope of services, as well as your responsibilities and the attorney’s, before signing an agreement for Limited Scope Representation.  Understand that unless the fees are “fixed” – so a set amount regardless of how much time the work actually takes – that the actual costs can be more than the estimates.

Limited Scope Representation is flexible.  As the case goes along, you can consult with an attorney to evaluate and improve upon your self-representation efforts.  For example, to problem solve obstacles encountered during self-representation.  For guidance about obtaining documents, identifying suitable witnesses, and identifying potential exhibits – early enough in the case to be able to present these as evidence at trial or a hearing.  To prepare a mediation strategy,  Or, to understand, prepare for, and participate effectively in other services in a custody evaluation or other court-ordered services.

In conclusion, careful planning of the scope of representation from the start and using the same attorney for all parts of the Limited Scope Representation gives you the advantage of consistency and strategy for the parts of the case in which the attorney participates.  Planning the scope of representation over the course of the case helps you use your litigation budget more efficiently.  It also clarifies expectations early in the case, preserving the opportunity to expand representation as the case develops and needs change.

Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke and University of Baltimore School of Law. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law. You can follow her on Linked, and subscribe to her Newsletter for discussion, news, and developments in Maryland family law.



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