When you are involved in a legal dispute – be it a divorce, the breach of a contract or a wrongful termination from employment – the path to resolution can be lengthy. Many lawyers (and clients, for that matter) think of legal services being delivered in this type of situation over a significant span of time, where the lawyer advises and represents the client throughout the process of resolving a dispute. But not all clients want, or can afford, legal services provided in this way.
Some clients would prefer it if they could retain a lawyer to help with just one aspect (or a few aspects) of their legal problem, while the client does the rest. Alternatively, the client would prefer to actively control the conduct of the case, and determine if, when and in what circumstances legal advice or skills is necessary. In order words, the client wants a more limited range of legal services to be provided by the lawyer.
This type of delivery of legal services is referred to by lawyers using various terms: “limited scope” legal services, “brief legal services” and “unbundled legal services”. The concept is that a client decides to retain the lawyer to perform only certain very specific legal services. The client is responsible for everything else. Another way to think of it is that a person is generally self-represented, but retains a lawyer to assist with those portions of the matter where the lawyer can most effectively assist the client, but within the client’s limited budget.
Here are just a few of the things that a lawyer can do on a limited scope basis:
- Meet with a client to provide an initial assessment and explanation of the client’s general legal situation. The client is obtaining an understanding of the law as it applies to his or her factual situation.
- Write a “demand letter”. The client uses the lawyer’s skills of knowledge, persuasion and determination to attempt to resolve a dispute at the earliest possible point.
- Assist a client in drafting court documents. The client is tapping into the knowledge and experience that a lawyer has in properly presenting evidence to be used in a court process.
- Assist a client in a specific court appearance. The client is leveraging the lawyer’s skill in advocating on behalf of the client in an environment (the court room) in which few non-lawyers are comfortable.
- Research a point of law. The client gets a thorough review of the law that applies to the client’s facts, summarized so that the client can thoroughly understand the law – or a part of the law – that applies to his or her individual circumstances. This helps with effective decision-making.
It is important to note that the high degree of competence, diligence and ethical behavior required by lawyers are not reduced in any way when legal services are delivered on a limited scope basis. All that is different is the scope – the range and duration – of the services to be delivered by the lawyer.
Not all lawyers are comfortable with providing limited scope legal services, just as not all clients are well suited to receiving limited scope legal services. What is important to understand, however, is that it is an option that is appropriate for some clients in some circumstances.
If you think that limited scope legal services might be right for you, talk to your lawyer about it. If your lawyer does not do limited scope work, then ask for a referral to a lawyer who does this type of work. When enough clients start asking for limited scope legal services, lawyers will meet the demand.
At Patriot Law Group, we offer the option of limited scope legal services when they are appropriate to both the situation and the client.