What is limited scope representation?
Limited scope representation is when a lawyer helps on some parts of a case but not others. The lawyer still charges a fee, but it is less than if the lawyer does the whole case. If you do this, you should sign a written agreement with your lawyer that says what services they will provide. You will be responsible for every other part of your case.
Are there other names for this?
Limited scope representation is sometimes called unbundling or a la carte legal services.
Why would I be interested in limited scope representation?
It can be expensive to hire a lawyer to provide full representation in a case. Limited scope representation is a cheaper option if you believe you can do some of the work without a lawyer’s help. Another benefit of limited scope representation is that you keep more control over your case than if the lawyer does everything.
What are examples of limited scope representation?
There are many ways to split the work in a case with your lawyer. Here are some examples:
- The lawyer coaches you on how to prepare documents on your own or reviews documents you have prepared;
- The lawyer prepares documents for you to file in court;
- The lawyer coaches you on how to go to court by yourself;
- The lawyer prepares the evidence which you will present in court;
- The lawyer appears in court for some parts of your case (usually the most difficult or technical parts) while you appear yourself in other parts;
- The lawyer handles settlement negotiations and drafts or reviews a settlement agreement.
Are lawyers allowed to provide limited scope representation?
Yes. In Illinois, lawyers may provide limited representation when it is reasonable and when the client agrees.
What cases are best for limited scope representation?
There is no “best” case, but there are times when it might make sense to hire a lawyer to provide limited scope representation:
- Going to court. Even if you want to do some work on your case, you may not feel comfortable going to court and talking to the judge. You can ask the lawyer to make a “limited scope appearance” and speak for you in court.
- Getting help where you need it. You may be willing to appear in court on your own but need help with tasks like drafting documents to file in court or dealing with the lawyer for the other party. In these situations, you can ask the lawyer to complete the documents for you or negotiate with the other party, but you still appear in court on your own.
- Making the most of the lawyer’s time. You may be able to handle tasks like gathering financial information on your own, so you don’t have to pay the lawyer to do it. The lawyer can then take the information and put it in a form which is most useful to or required by the court.
What questions should I ask a lawyer offering limited scope representation?
You and your lawyer should talk about your case and agree on who will be in charge of what tasks. You should make sure you discuss questions including:
- Who will set the strategy in the case?
- Who will get the information?
- Who will draft documents for the court or write letters to the other party?
- Who will go to court, meetings, and settlement conferences?
- Who will deal with the other party to try to settle out of court?
What are the risks of limited scope representation?
When you hire a lawyer to provide limited representation, you are responsible for what happens in the parts of the case you do yourself. This includes when a lawyer coaches you. There may be problems that you don’t know about because you don’t have legal training. This is why you need to discuss your legal matter with your lawyer carefully.
You must be open and truthful about everything in your case so the lawyer can give you the best advice about the risks and benefits of representing yourself. Also, you should remember that when the lawyer finishes the tasks he or she agreed to, the lawyer is done with the case. The lawyer may agree to help you later on, but this is not required.
What happens if I need more help from the lawyer later on?
New issues often come up when a case is in court. You may decide you need more legal help than you expected. If you use limited scope representation, you can always go back and ask the lawyer to handle more tasks. If your lawyer agrees to provide additional services, you need to update or replace the old agreement with your lawyer to show the new tasks the lawyer will handle.
What if I decide I want the lawyer to handle the entire case?
After going to court on your own – even with good coaching from a lawyer – you may decide that you would rather have a lawyer handle the whole case. Because you pay a lawyer for their time, it may be best to go back to the lawyer who already knows you and your legal issues, rather than paying a new lawyer to get up to speed. If you hire your lawyer to provide full representation in the case, then you should make a new agreement with them.
What if the lawyer doesn’t want to do what I ask?
You and your lawyer should work as a team, but the case is always your case. The lawyer may have more experience in legal matters than you do, but the choice on how to proceed is still yours. If your lawyer feels strongly that what you want is not in your best interests, you should listen carefully to the reasons why. But the ultimate decision for your case belongs to you. You have the right to ignore your lawyer’s advice. But you have to accept responsibility for your decision if the case doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. You also have the right to seek legal advice from or hire another lawyer to handle the case.
How do I find a lawyer who is willing to help me represent myself?
There are several Lawyer Referral Service programs in Illinois, and they may know which lawyers provide limited scope representation.
- Inside Chicago: The Chicago Bar Association has Limited Scope Referral Panels with information about limited scope lawyers who practice in the areas of landlord/tenant law, consumer and debt collection law, and family law. You can learn more by visiting ChicagoBar.org or calling the Lawyer Referral Service at (312) 554-2001.
- Outside Chicago: The Illinois State Bar Association Lawyer Finder Program at IllinoisLawyerFinder.com or call (800) 678-4009.
Updated: March 2017