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Expand Your Practice and Earnings Through Unbundled or Limited Scope Legal Services

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Expand Your Practice and Earnings Through Unbundled or Limited Scope Legal Services

Many legal consumers are only familiar with traditional, full-scope legal representation. However, this is not practical or affordable for many, and perhaps even most, Americans. This leads many to decide to “go it alone” and represent themselves. However, some representation is almost always better than no representation at all. Offering flexible representation, also called unbundled, limited scope, or à la carte services, allows you to connect with legal consumers who may otherwise feel priced out of the legal market. During this hour long seminar, we will address what precisely “unbundled” and limited scope services are (and are not) and what benefits can be achieved not only to the consumer but also to you as an attorney in offering these options. We will also provide you with resources, from the relevant ethical rules to tips on how to identify appropriate candidates for unbundled or limited scope services.

Transcript

- Welcome to "Expand Your Practice and Earnings Through Unbundled or Limited Scope Services." My name is Roya Samarghandi, and I'm an attorney based in Chicago, Illinois, and the founder of Carmel Law, LLC. My firm provides legal services aimed at modest income individuals in Chicago and the surrounding areas. I practice in all areas of family law, from divorce and custody to adoptions and department of children and family services appeals. I also represent criminal clients and parties to orders of protection. I began my practice with the support of the Chicago Bar Foundation's Incubator program, the Justice Entrepreneurs Project, or the JEP. The JEP provides an environment where lawyers are encouraged to experiment and innovate. And unbundled offerings is one component of that. Since I launched my firm in 2015, I have been offering limited scope and unbundled services, and I found it to be a really profitable way for me to differentiate myself from other attorneys in my field, as well as to open my practice up to individuals who may be needing legal advice, assistance, or representation, but who may feel that they simply can't afford full scope representation. For me, the financial benefits of offering limited scope or unbundled services are clear. But what has come as a bit of a surprise is that in offering limited scope services, I found a new and unique way to work and collaborate with my clients because we're really shouldering the process together. It's an ever growing part of my practice and one that I sincerely enjoy. So, let's turn now to identifying what unbundling is. For our purposes, unbundling limited scope services, a la carte services, limited assistance representation, these are interchangeable terms for the same thing. Your local jurisdiction may use one of these terms or something similar. While there may be some differences and nuances that separate these terms apart, as I said, for our purposes, we're going to use them interchangeably. In defining what limited scope representation is, it helps to think about what actually it's not. First and foremost, limited scope representation or unbundling is not new. Many industries, in fact, already unbundle services. We'll talk about some of those industries later on in the course. But even within the legal services market, it's also not a new concept. In fact, legal aid organizations have, by necessity and their limited capacity, been unbundling their legal services for years. This may be providing referrals or case assessments, assisting in form completion and things of that nature. It's also important to note that unbundling does not mean that you have limited liability. In fact, you have the same liability, the same ethical obligations, and the same attorney-client privilege, whether you're providing full scope or limited scope representation. The only thing that's limited is your scope of work. Additionally, unbundling or limited scope representation is not unethical. I hear the ethics concerns about unbundling stated routinely when I discuss this with attorneys. And so, I think it's helpful to dive more thoroughly into this idea. Indeed, in its 2013 mid-year meeting, the American Bar Association actually passed a resolution encouraging attorneys to offer unbundled services as a means of increasing access to justice. Since then, many states, including Illinois, my home state, Texas, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan, they've all issued their own reports encouraging unbundling. The State Bar of Michigan's 21st Century Task Force listed offering limited scope services at the top of its recommendations, noting that it is an integral aspect of expanding access to justice. And indeed, several jurisdictions in the last 20 years have organized task forces and reports specifically about unbundled services. In Ohio, a 2006 report and recommendation stated, "The Task Force believes that pro se litigants can, in appropriate cases, optimize their outcomes if they can obtain assistance from a lawyer with discreet limited phases or aspects of their respective case." In addition to the positive approach that the Ohio report is taking, I also wanna call out for you the caveat there in that it talks about appropriate cases. Later in the course, we'll talk about exactly how to identify what an appropriate case for unbundled services might mean. Let's also consider Massachusetts' 2008 Steering Committee, which provided, quote, "Experience has shown that LAR, also known as limited assistance representation, is appropriate for use in many categories typically involving self-represented parties. And that is an extremely helpful innovation for several reasons. First, it allows legal aid and pro bono attorneys to assist more people. Second, it allows people who cannot afford full scope representation, but who have some funds to pay a lawyer to obtain meaningful assistance with their legal problems. And third, it has a positive impact on the operations of the court." This third point that it has a positive impact on the operations of the court was similarly contemplated in Iowa's 2005 Task Force report, which stated, and I quote, "Limited representation leaves these litigants better prepared and should relieve judges and other court staff from the pressures of giving advice or advocacy." I love this point and I bring it up because I feel like it's one that often gets overlooked. Several years ago, I actually had the pleasure of sitting on a panel about limited scope representation with a member of our local judiciary. I confess many of the practitioners in the room were very hesitant about limited scope representation. And I think it was really impactful for other practitioners to hear from the court's perspective how beneficial unbundled services are and how grateful that judge sitting on the bench was when he could identify that a self-represented litigant had benefited from the assistance of a lawyer. Consider this, perhaps you are drafting just an initial complaint or petition, which the legal consumer is going to file and litigate on their own. Even though you may never step before the bench in that case, you have already assisted the court in making sure that the complaint is in proper form, is citing relevant statutes or case law, and is written in a coherent and cogent way that actually allows the court to more quickly determine the legal issues at hand. I'm confident in saying that while the judge may never know you specifically or in the background assisting that litigant, they can clearly differentiate between a self-represented litigant's pleading versus what you as an experienced lawyer has drafted. And ultimately, that makes the case easier for them to navigate. As we touched on a bit earlier, limited scope representation is not right in every type of case. There may be local rules prohibiting limited scope representation. And this is something that you should be aware of at the very beginning. In fact, some recent cases out of federal courts in California have interpreted the federal rules of civil procedure as not permitting limited scope representation. Furthermore, because of our Sixth Amendment right to counsel, unbundled or limited scope services is likely not appropriate in criminal cases. Despite unbundling not being right in every type of case, it's actually not inherently dangerous. And one way we know this is because we've seen that there is no known impact on legal malpractice coverage. You'll note that when you apply to re-up your malpractice coverage, they don't even ask if you're offering limited scope representation. Another point is that limited scope is not only for low income litigants. Oftentimes, unbundling or limited scope services are looked at through a lens of access to justice. That was illustrated in some of the task force comments and recommendations that we discussed earlier. But I assure you that unbundling is actually a great option for even modest income or high income individuals. An easy illustration is to consider a business owner who perhaps is seeking legal advice and guidance about a specific purchase agreement where maybe it's an employee-related issue. The business owner is likely a savvier and more sophisticated legal consumer than those self-represented litigants who may be seeking pro bono or legal aid. But that business owner may also simply not have the need to have an attorney on retainer at all times. She can leverage an attorney through unbundled services as needed for specific legal advice as issues pop up. I confess, in fact, I personally have used a limited scope attorney. This came about when my business partner and I were negotiating the lease for our office space a few years ago. She and I both being attorneys were certainly comfortable negotiating from a general perspective, but we definitely wanted the insight of someone well-versed within the field of commercial real estate to kind of guide us in terms of what the building was seeking and whether those things were commonplace, and maybe where we had some room to push back. The building owners never knew that we had the benefit of counsel on the background, but we felt a bit more comfortable having that extra bit of coaching. Additionally, in my own practice, I've worked for years with another attorney who has, for a variety of reasons, elected to represent himself in his post decree divorce matter. He initially came to me seeking my full scope representation, but after having reviewed the case and consulting with him, it became clear that I did not have the bandwidth, or frankly, the appetite for his case. However, I did discuss with him the option of limited scope services. And we ultimately established a really great coaching relationship wherein I was able to consult with him in the background, review his pleadings, strategize with him in anticipation of hearings, and things of that nature. This has worked for both of us in that I've been able to help temper him at times when his emotions may have been impacting his legal judgment and expertise. And I was still able to stay out of what is a heavily contentious and often appealed matter. And once again, unbundling is not good for every case, every issue or every client. Later on in the program, we will discuss how to identify the appropriate candidates for limited scope representation. Now that we've given some consideration to what unbundling is not, let's work on defining what limited scope representation is. As the name alludes, limited scope representation is essentially anything less than full or traditional representation. It is also quality and ethical practice of law. Unbundling also offers an opportunity to provide access to legal services for a greater percentage of the community. And again, this applies not only to lower income individuals, but also to wealthier individuals as well. Unbundled services come in a variety of different forms and it may look different for you depending upon your practice area, but here's some examples of unbundled services. One is just providing legal advice and coaching. Truthfully, this is one of my most frequent engagements with my limited scope clients. I hope I'm not dating myself with this reference, but I always liken it to the old, who wants to be a millionaire, phone a friend. My clients love it because they know that they have my support and assistance when they need it. But it's entirely within their control. Unbundled or limited scope services could also just be a case assessment. I know many lawyers provide these kind of substantive evaluations of their cases at the outset in lieu of a more general consultation like I do. That in and of itself is an unbundled service. You may also draft documents, also known as ghost writing, or maybe include drafting discovery documents. As I mentioned before, it can also be reviewing client-drafted documents and helping guide them to ways that they may be could better articulate their issues. Unbundled services can also include settlement negotiations, or, of course, appearing in court on behalf of a self-represented litigant on a specific date and/or on a discreet and narrow issue. If you think about it, local counsel is generally inherently limited in its scope based on the fact that you are working with primary counsel and they're really taking on the full role and responsibilities. Data shows that only about 10% of unbundled cases involve actually going to court. So, you can get really creative in terms of what you offer to clients without really even stepping before the court. Unbundling works really well in a variety of different practice areas. Obviously, it's a great option for me in my family law cases, but I've seen it work really well in landlord-tenant, small claims and small business, estate planning. I encourage you to take a moment right now to consider whether limited scope services might be an option for you in one of your practice areas. Now that we've more clearly defined what unbundling and limited scope representation is, let's consider what benefits it offers to legal consumers. You should always approach these kinds of considerations with what value you're providing to your clients. And that applies regardless of whether you're considering full scope or limited scope representation. There's a great example coming out of a 2018 study of defendants who participated in Yale's residential for closure clinic. In that, self-represented litigants who had access to what they called a lawyer for a day offered through that residential for closure litigation clinic. They fared better with regard to the ultimate outcome of their case than those homeowners who did not participate in the clinic. I think this is a great example that even access to a lawyer on a very short term basis can make a real and significant impact for a litigant. Now, why might that be? First and foremost, of course, they're getting the value of your legal expertise. As I always say, your law degree can never be replaced by what someone is able to find on Google. So, that in and of itself, even in a limited scope capacity, is a huge value to clients. Additionally, though, because of the nature of the relationship that is necessitated by unbundled or limited scope services, your clients are getting the transparency, clear and consistent communication and collaboration that is enhanced much more than just full scope representation, where you are navigating the case kind of in the background. Because by its nature, limited scope or unbundling requires your clients to handle some portion of their case on their own. You have to really collaborate and communicate with them. And they have a greater understanding of exactly what you were doing. Furthermore, because unbundling and limited scope services are more easily adaptable to alternative pricing methods such as fixed fees or recurring fees, if you're utilizing one of those alternative billing methodologies, you're also providing your clients with the value of price certainty and affordable fees. Now, consider who might want limited scope services. One of the problems with unbundling is a lot of legal consumers don't know that it exists. According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Center for State Courts, approximately 76% of civil cases involved at least one party who was self represented. And that was usually the defendant or the respondent. However, based on an American Bar Association study, when they were confronted with the idea of unbundled or limited scope services, two thirds of legal consumers that were surveyed actually were interested in speaking with an attorney about unbundling. And lawyers who offered unbundled services in that same study were looked upon favorably by 80% of those surveyed. Now, I mentioned previously that unbundled services are the norm in other industries. I encourage you to consider if you've taken a flight recently how much airlines have leaned into unbundling. While you may purchase the flight, you're having to pay additional costs or add-ons for things like check backs or the option to choose your seat ahead of time. Similarly, cellular and wireless providers and financial service providers have unbundled their services and their products. For instance, you may be paying one fee to your wireless provider for the data and another fee per month towards your phone. And in fact, something as ubiquitous as Netflix is in fact an unbundled service, All streaming services have essentially unbundled cabled channels in the way that we used to think about them. Perhaps you subscribe to Sling or YouTube TV, where you can add up or take down the level of packages that you subscribe to. Perhaps in the fall you add on a sports package for college football, or maybe you add on HBO when a show is playing that you really like. Those are all examples of unbundled services that are completely normalized in other industries. Now, we all know that the legal services industry is quite traditional and very slow in terms of moving with the times. But if we're going to meet legal consumers where they want us, we're going to be forced to adapt and meet the needs of our clients to the extent that they need them. And that we're able to craft a creative solution based on what level of service they might need. In my own community, I've seen a far greater acceptance for unbundled services. In fact, in 2018, the county domestic relations division actually implemented what they called a resolution assistance program. This program asked attorneys to sign up for specific shifts, usually one afternoon, wherein they assisted self-represented litigants in resolving their matters efficiently and expeditiously. This ranged from consulting and giving legal advice to negotiating with adverse parties and even helping to draft and complete a judgment. This evolved even more during the implementation of remote proceedings during the COVID era, during which attorneys were now kind of on call for a day to answer general questions from self-represented litigants. That could be frankly, something administrative like Zoom login information or how to e-file a pleading, or it could have been something more substantive. The fact that courts are now implementing and encouraging these types of unbundled or limited scope services should be a guiding light for where the market should be taking us more generally. Now that we've seen the value that unbundling provides to the legal consumer, let's consider who is actually offering these services. Unfortunately, as of now, very few attorneys are actually offering it. In my home state of Illinois, it's estimated that only 18% of attorneys are offering some type of unbundled service. And in fact, a 2017 ABA survey found that 69% of lawyers offered no type of unbundled service. As you can see, there's a disconnect between those attorneys that are supplying it and the demand of the legal consumers when they know it's an option. But the attorneys that are offering unbundling is a growing market share. And anecdotally, at least, those offering it are really loving it, and that includes me. So, let's think about what benefits there could be for you as a lawyer in offering unbundling as part of your practice. As I mentioned during my introduction, for me, it's been a huge marketing and business development opportunity. It's a great way to set yourself apart from other attorneys within your community and practice area. And truthfully, I found that even other attorneys can acknowledge this distinction. I'm currently part of a very large network of female family law practitioners in the Chicagoland area. And my colleagues are incredibly generous in routinely sending me referrals for potential clients who they feel might in fact be appropriate limited scope candidates. While these attorneys may themselves not feel comfortable offering limited scope for whatever reason, they've come to understand the value that unbundled services offers to the litigant and to the court process more generally. And they're gracious enough to send those litigants my way. Again, offering unbundling opens up a larger pool of legal consumers who may otherwise be priced out of your services, or who may not see the value of paying someone for services that they can do themselves. In that same vein, it gives you the opportunity to offer that greater value to your clients. Furthermore, it allows you to build strong attorney-client relationships, which, hopefully, leads to happier and more satisfied clients. And what comes from happier and more satisfied clients? First, a better appreciation of what you do. With that are more referrals, a greater likelihood of getting paid, and a lesser chance of being sued for malpractice. And in truth, satisfied clients may result in additional limited scope opportunities or even a conversion to full scope. I see this often in my practice. I have many clients who come to me asking me to fill a file, a limited scope appearance on their behalf for maybe a substantive hearing or something of that nature. And upon seeing how smoothly things go, how better able I am to articulate their position to court, how better received I am by the judge, they will often ask that I convert my limited scope appearance to a full scope appearance. And again, because my practice is geared towards low to modest income folks, this is oftentimes a client who came to me thinking that their budget simply wouldn't allow them the opportunity for full scope services. But they then get the opportunity to fully understand the value that I offer because they've now seen it firsthand. The same can be said for clients for whom I draft pleadings or help issue discovery. Again, it helps my clients feel a little bit buoyed, and oftentimes, having that additional confidence is something that they want to enjoy throughout the context of their matter. One last note about what benefit you get as the lawyer in offering unbundled services. And this one's a little bit nuanced, but it deals with money. If you are, in fact, offering fixed fees, many states allow you to deposit those fees directly into your operating account, deeming them essentially earned upon receipt. This reduces the need for you to use your trusts or IOLTA account, and to manage the administrative duties that come with that. This segues well into a consideration of the ethics rules that apply for limited scope services. As I mentioned at the outset, offering unbundled or limited scope services is not illegal, nor is it unethical, but like the practice of law generally, there are specific rules that you must operate within. The American Bar Association's model rule of professional conduct 1.2C expressly permits limited scope or unbundling, provided that the client gives informed consent. Now, each state has its own specific rules or administrative orders outlining the rules and obligations associated with limited scope representation. This extends from just expressly permitting limited scope representation and things like document drafting. And some are more specific rules. For instance, there are some jurisdictions that have provisions requiring notice of a lawyers having drafted a pleading that's ultimately filed with the court. And it requires that that notice include the drafting lawyer's specific contact information. Other rules actually are more procedural in that they set forth the guidelines for things like limited scope appearances before the court, and also the procedure to withdraw those limited scope appearances. There are also guidelines for rules in communicating with, and/or on behalf of a self-represented litigant. All of this is to say, you should review your jurisdiction's specific rules and regulations regarding unbundled or limited scope services, and make sure you're familiar enough with those rules to operate within them. The American Bar Association's Unbundling Resource Center is an amazing first step in this process. It has links to each state and the District of Columbia's specific jurisdictional rules, as well as articles and white papers that discuss them more specifically. As noted earlier in this course, unbundling is not appropriate for each and every potential client. So, you need to learn how to identify who might be an appropriate limited scope candidate. First and foremost, though, you must be well-versed enough in the area of practice to appropriately unbundle. You need to be able to consider the complexity of the matter. And if you're unfamiliar with that practice area, generally, you won't be able to appropriately assess the specific case at hand. Your familiarity with the case type is also imperative to allow you to break the case down into phases and to identify the documents and/or tasks that are gonna be applicable to each phase. Again, unbundling is not appropriate for all legal consumers. And so, some of the determining factors that you need to consider are the potential clients' goals, their needs, their capabilities and their budgets. That's gonna guide you in terms of whether offering limited scope service is reasonable and appropriate in that circumstance. Let's think about some of the specific questions that you should be thinking through as you are evaluating whether a legal consumer would be an appropriate unbundling candidate. It could be something as simple as, are there language barriers that could be difficult for that potential client in their ability to understand and communicate with stakeholders in their case? Are they a victim of trauma or abuse? I work with, unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence. And oftentimes, depending upon where they are in their process, I don't find that limited scope representation is appropriate for them because they're going to have to, by necessity, have a closer contact with the perpetrator of that violence upon them. You should also consider whether the legal consumer has some type of disability that could be a barrier to them handling portions of their own case. But maybe it's just a question of whether or not they're actually comfortable even appearing in court. Maybe the idea of stepping before a judge just completely fills them with anxiety and dread. There are also practical considerations that need to be evaluated. Do they have the access and know-how to use the technology resources to handle portions of their case? Can they convert pleadings into PDFs? Can they navigate the e-filing system? Maybe it's a question of whether or not they can appear in court at all, or in doing so, it would force them to take off work and thus be challenging and problematic. This doesn't have to be a really highly esoteric consideration. These are real world problems that need to be considered when you're evaluating whether a client is appropriate for unbundling. Ultimately, you need to consider whether limited scope services are reasonable under the circumstances. And again, that takes into consideration the client's own abilities and their understanding of their case. And if you do believe that limited scope could be reasonable in the circumstance, then you must obtain the client's informed consent. These two items, reasonable under the circumstances and informed consent are the minimum factors that you should be considering in determining if the potential client is appropriate for limited scope or unbundling services. A lot of this evaluation actually happens during that initial consultation. And in order to obtain informed consent, you need to discuss the difference between full scope representation and limited scope representation. So, you'll explain during that initial consultation which tasks would be a portion to the client, and which tasks that you as the attorney would handle. You need to ensure that the client understands things like proper filing and service of pleadings, as well as applicable deadlines. You also want to identify for the client the tangential issues that are gonna be outside your scope of representation, and make sure the client understands that those issues are going to be their responsibility. You should also discuss with the client how to communicate with other stakeholders, whether that be opposing counsel, court staff, or other third parties on matters that are outside the scope of your representation. Once you've evaluated the client and obtained that informed consent, you want to memorialize all of that in your engagement agreement. Just like with full scope representation, your engagement agreement should always be in writing. Now, this might not be explicitly required by the rules governing your limited scope representation in your jurisdiction, but for me, it's a necessary best practice regardless. And in fact, there may really be rules requiring that your unbundled or limited scope representation is delineated in writing. The tasks that are allocated to you and to your client should be clearly allocated in writing in the engagement agreement. And here you want to be very, very specific with regard to your scope provision. For me, when I'm defining the scope and engagement agreement, I also like to include the client's specific objectives or their stated goals, as well as the assumptions that I'm operating under based on the information that the client has given me about their matter. This doesn't preclude me from having to do my own due diligence in terms of reviewing pleadings or maybe verifying information on the docket, but it helps to put the client on notice that I'm operating within the information that they're giving me. If nothing else, just provide a list of tasks of what you are going to do and what the client is going to be responsible for. You also want to make sure that you discuss and document all changes to the scope of the representation. From a business perspective, let's hope that that initial unbundled service results in either further unbundled services, or in fact, a transition to full scope representation. Each time a representation scope changes or expands, you wanna make sure that that's memorialized either in a fresh engagement agreement or an amendment to the engagement agreement that is signed by the client each time. Let's talk about some additional tips. First, technology is going to be your friend. So much of why my practice has seen great profitability in offering limited scope services is because I've been able to implement automation within my practice, such that what may take a self-represented litigant hours to draft, I can accomplish with the push of a button and a few minutes of customization. You also need to get comfortable establishing and actually maintaining boundaries. I confess this was not something I was great at at the beginning. And I would often end up helping out on tasks that were outside of my written scope in the engagement agreement. What I've learned along the way though, is that as long as my engagement agreement is clear, when I refer back to it, clients can understand and appreciate that boundary. I then use that as an opportunity to offer additional limited scope services by saying something like, "I would be more than happy to help you with that. But since it's outside of what you originally contracted me to assist with, let's have a chat about what that service might look like and what that fee might be." I also want to encourage you to experiment with this type of practice. Start small and see if it's something you enjoy and that's profitable for you. I think the very first type of unbundled service I offered was document drafting. Now, as I mentioned earlier, coaching is really what most of my clients take advantage of, but it's been interesting to see that evolution, and I've adjusted with that feedback from my clients. With each limited scope service, I wanna encourage you to review and adjust at the end of your engagement. Be honest with your self about whether the task was appropriately discreet enough, or whether it bled too much into another task or phase. Also think about whether that limited scope service was priced appropriately. Did you price it so high that it wasn't reasonable? Or maybe you undervalued what you were providing. Again, review and adjust and experiment, have a little fun with it. One last tip that I want to raise to your attention is the procedure for withdrawal. If you filed a limited scope appearance before the court, you wanna be very knowledgeable about the rules that you must follow in order to withdraw that limited scope appearance. One of the constant refrains I hear from attorneys in terms of their fears of actually offering limited scope representation is that the court will not let them out. But if you're well-versed enough in the rules of your jurisdiction, this isn't going to be a problem. I remember back when I first began filing limited scope appearances, I would have the applicable rules on hand to educate the judge if I felt it was gonna be necessary. I no longer feel the need to do that because our judiciary in Illinois has itself been educated enough to understand the implementation of the rules in this jurisdiction that provide for limited scope appearance and withdrawal. And in fact, there are forms in Illinois that explicitly provide for that procedure in writing. In Illinois, I always try to make sure that my client is present because I can then, on the record before the court, ask my client to acknowledge that my limited scope representation has concluded. So long as they agree, that's it. I get an order that says my limited scope representation is withdrawn, and I don't have to worry about anything further. If for some reason the client isn't present. Maybe that is, in fact, the very reason why I'm appearing before the court in a limited scope capacity, there's a simple notice period requirement. Take a look at the rules in your own jurisdiction and familiarize yourself with that process. Regardless of what that might look like or whether you are appearing in court in a limited scope capacity, or just providing coaching, document drafting, or something of that nature in the background, you always want to make sure that you've confirmed in writing with the client that your limited scope engagement has ended. This can be done by sending a disengagement or a closed letter. Now, if it's a discreet task of a court appearance, that's usually pretty easy to determine. The same would go for the case of drafting a document or maybe issuing a subpoena. But consider coaching arrangement. How do you know when that limited scope engagement has ended? It may be when the case is taken off call, or if not, I encourage you to do periodic check-ins with your clients. In my office, if we've not heard from a client in 60 to 90 days, we reach out to see if we can in fact close that file. Let's take a moment to consider a hypothetical scenario. A potential client, Janie, contacts your office about a pending small claims dispute in which she's the defendant. She informs you that while she previously had an attorney in the case, that attorney withdrew after her $10,000 retainer ran dry and she's determined that she simply can't afford to replenish that retainer. Accordingly, she's been kind of going it alone for the last few months. However, Janie says that each time she has a court date, she feels like the judge never lets her say a word and instead just listens to what the plaintiff's attorney, Nikki Bickers, says. Janie reports to you that the case has now been set for something called a status on discovery in anticipation of trial. But truthfully, she isn't really even sure what that means. She feels that she actually has a great defense to the plaintiff's allegations, but doesn't know how to go about getting the documentation that would support her argument. Further, in addition to a barrage of discovery requests, Nikki Bickers is now sending Janie settlement documents, telling her to just sign them, and reminding her that he's not gonna go easy on her if the case goes to trial. Janie's come to you asking what you might be able to do to help her. First and foremost, let's pause and confirm that the jurisdiction in which you're practicing authorizes limited scope services, Assuming this is permitted by your local rules, let's consider what options might be available to Janie. The good thing is there are so many different ways you can help here. Perhaps you wanna start with just offering a case assessment. You could review all the pending pleadings, and based on your knowledge and expertise, advise Janie as to how you think the court might rule in the event that the case were in fact to go to trial. This could be extremely beneficial because it can help Janie determine the appropriate next steps. You may want to consider offering Janie the option to review and negotiate the settlement agreement drafted by Nikki Bickers on her behalf. That might save her from being intimidated into an inequitable resolution of the matter, but also save her the time, the money and the energy of extensive discovery and trial litigation. Alternatively, if Janie feels as though a full defense is in fact available, perhaps you offer to help her issue subpoenas or other discovery documents to gather the evidence that she might need in defending herself from the claim in its entirety. An easy add-on would be also assisting her in responding to the discovery that Nikki Bickers has already propounded upon her. In determining what might be the best option for Janie, it's important to ask and listen to her goals. If she feels as though she spent enough money and energy on this case and desperately just wants it to be over, perhaps you focus on things like negotiating the settlement offer. However, maybe her goal is in fact to clear her name. In that case, helping her to issue discovery and respond to discovery is a great first step that could frankly quickly lead to other limited scope options, including representing her at the trial of the case, were it to go that way. Janie's already told you that she feels like she doesn't get a fair shake with the judge, and that opposing counsel, Nikki Bickers, seems to be trying to intimidate her. Now, her available budget is going to be a determining factor here, but the limited scope appearance for the trial could be a huge bang for her buck. Coaching is a potential option, given that Janie has already shown an ability to advocate for herself during her time as a self-represented litigant. Perhaps you talk her through the discovery options, but leave it in her hands to decide what makes the most sense and to draft those discovery requests on her own. You could be on hand to talk through her concerns about the settlement proposal, or to talk strategy in advance of trial. Again, this would be something to evaluate once you have a full picture of Janie's goals and abilities, but in truth, coaching would probably be a last resort in terms of my toolbox and what I would be offering Janie. Once you've determined if, and as applicable, which limited scope services you're going to offer to Janie, you next need to turn to how you price those services. Perhaps you default to an hourly rate. However, you also might want to consider what you can do on a flat fee, maybe even with a payment plan. Since you know that Janie has expended a large amount of resources thus far and is maybe a bit cash wrapped. How much would you charge on a flat rate to draft a subpoena or maybe a notice to produce? Or perhaps you could offer a recurring flat rate for up to a specific number of hours for negotiation with Mr. Bickers. There are easy ways to get creative here to meet Janie's needs, again, so long as they are reasonable. Most importantly, once you've settled on an unbundled offering and the appropriate pricing structure, make sure you've communicated with Janie what the scope of your representation is going to include. And even more importantly, what it doesn't. Janie needs to understand that there may be portions of her case that she is still entirely responsible for. This gets you to informed consent. Make sure you've memorialized this conversation in writing through your written engagement agreement. And perhaps include in that engagement agreement a checklist of what will be your responsibility and what will be Janie's responsibility. Again, this is a situation where I could easily see one limited scope engagement turning into two or three, or perhaps even full scope. Flex those legal muscles and let Janie see the value you bring and the ease with which you're able to handle that pesky Mr. Bickers. If you're thinking that unbundled or limited scope services might be an option for you, there are myriad resources available to give you more information, and even templates to start that implementation. The Chicago Bar Foundation and Justice Entrepreneurs Project has a limited scope representation toolkit. This provides additional tips and tricks about identifying appropriate candidates and also sample engagement agreements and checklists to help you get started in terms of implementing that engagement agreement for this type of offering. As I mentioned before, the American Bar Association's Unbundling Resource Center should be your first stop with regard to your state-specific resources for its rules, cases, ethics opinions, and the like, with regard to your options and obligations and offering limited scope representation in your jurisdiction. There is even an unbundling law Facebook group where practitioners support each other and share ideas and maybe talk through some concerns with regard to unbundling. Likewise, both the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have guides and resources available on their websites. Your state may also have standardized forms for things like limited scope appearances and similar options. Familiarize yourself with what's available in your own jurisdiction. Limited scope or unbundled services are a great way to expand your practice and earnings. And once you've established the right framework and found the right resources, I hope you agree that there is a tremendous value in offering unbundled services, a value that extends not only to legal consumers, but to the larger legal system and to you as a practitioner.

Presenter(s)

Roya Samarghandi
Managing Attorney
Carmel Law LLC

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