Client Choices: Full Representation or Limited-Scope Representation?
Most people are aware of the traditional model for attorney assistance, Full Representation, in which an attorney represents a client in all aspects of the case until the process is complete. Alternatively, a non-traditional option for attorney assistance is Limited-Scope Representation, also known as “unbundled legal services” or “consulting-only” legal advice.
In Full Representation, the attorney and the client sign an Engagement Agreement that includes the fee arrangement, general process the attorney will perform, and expectations for the attorney and the client until the case is complete. Full Representation involves the attorney taking the lead in drafting and filing court documents, negotiating with opposing counsel, and appearing in court and mediation. Under a Full Representation arrangement, the attorney enters his or her appearance in the court record and all communication with the client from the court or opposing counsel must be made through through the attorney.
If your divorce case involves complex financial issues, such as executive compensation, business ownership, or family trusts, it may be necessary to engage an attorney for Full Representation to discuss how to value and divide your marital assets. If you suspect that your spouse is concealing income or assets from you, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney for Full Representation in order to compel complete financial disclosures and conduct discovery, if necessary, to establish an accurate financial estate. Similarly, if your case involves complex parenting issues, such as a parent wanting to move out-of-state, substance abuse, or criminal charges, it may be necessary to engage an attorney for Full Representation to assist you in navigating a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation or argue for safeguards for your children in a contested hearing.
For complex cases, the benefits of Full Representation often far outweigh the money a client might save by foregoing the services of an attorney of record.
Limited-Scope Representation is very similar to a consulting agreement in which the client contacts the attorney for assistance with specific agreed-upon tasks. In Limited-Scope Representation, the client leads the case and represents himself or herself during court appearances and mediation while the attorney only acts behind the scenes on an as-needed basis. Common tasks for Limited-Scope Representation include answering questions, conducting legal research for a specific issue, reviewing or drafting legal documents, assisting with child or spousal support calculations, or being available for consultation during mediation.
If the attorney drafts documents for the client, the attorney must disclose to the court that drafting assistance was provided – this does not, however, mean that the attorney becomes the client’s attorney of record – the client remains pro se or unrepresented. In the event that the attorney does not provide drafting assistance, the court and the opposing party may never know the client has been working with an attorney.
If your case involves relatively simple financial and parenting issues and you feel comfortable negotiating directly with your spouse, Limited-Scope Representation may be the right fit for you. Hiring an attorney for Limited-Scope Representation can help you navigate the legal system while allowing you to control the tasks that you feel confident to complete on your own. Limited-Scope Representation can be very economical for clients because the attorney only performs work that you specifically ask them to perform. Self-motivated individuals with relatively amicable break-ups often thrive under this arrangement.
Written by Joanne Morando, Associate Attorney