Dave Pantzer writes about his attendance at a Maryland conference on “Building an Effective Limited Scope Practice in Maryland:
What I learned at the “Limited Scope” conference
On Friday, October 14, the Maryland Access to Justice Commission and Maryland State Bar Association Section on Delivery of Legal Services presented a conference on “Building an Effective Limited Scope Practice in Maryland.”
“Limited scope” legal practice, sometimes called “unbundled” practice, is an alternative to traditional full representation that allows a lawyer and client to agree to share the tasks involved in a client’s legal representation. It is often motivated by a client’s inability to pay for full representation.
The conference, held in Westminster Hall at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, provided several important takeaways. These were gleaned from the presentation and slides of the keynote speaker, American Bar Association staff counsel William Hornsby, and those of other panelists discussing legal, ethical, and practical aspects of limited scope practice.
- The term “unbundling” refers to a metaphor that sees full legal representation as a “bundle” of discrete tasks. Tasks include advising the client, gathering facts, drafting documents, discovery, negotiation, and court representation. When those tasks (all traditionally managed by the “full representation” lawyer) are “unbundled,” they can be shared or divided between the lawyer and client.
- There is a large latent market for legal services –many, many Marylanders come to court self-represented. Many can at least afford to pay for some legal help.
- Limited scope practice allows lawyers to access this paying market, and to provide meaningful help to many who would otherwise be less well served.
- Recent changes in the Maryland rules make this much easier for lawyers to do. You can now even structure representation so as to appear in court for someone on a limited basis, and get out of the case, without a judge’s “approval,” after completing the agreed representation tasks.
- Despite the rule changes, it’s still not happening. With a few exceptions, lawyers are not yet making use of this opportunity. The market is still there.
- In limited-scope representation, the only thing that is “limited” is the scope – not the quality – of the representation. Limited scope is not for newbies – it’s not a safe and easy way to slip into an unfamiliar practice area. Rather it’s best seen as a powerful new option for attorneys who are experienced in providing full representation in a practice area. Not every case, issue, or client, is appropriate for limited scope practice.
- Limited scope provides some advantages for lawyers. These include full hourly or flat fees for service, with little in the way of receivables. More clients can afford the service, and some of these will convert to full representation.
- Clients reap the benefits of increased access to representation, more investment and empowerment in their cases, and reduced costs.
- Limited scope lawyering takes many forms. These include client coaching, document preparation, and limited appearances, in or out of court.
- Limited scope can work in many practice areas. The practice areas specifically explored in break-out sessions included consumer law, family law, employment law, and legal services for the poor.
- Where limited court appearances under the new rules have been tried, the results are often encouraging. Clients have responded with gratitude, and bar counsel has not seen complaints about attorneys dropping the ball in limited appearances.
- There are many paths to limited scope service. It may start in a private attorney’s office, as an option provided when the client cannot afford full representation. It may be promoted by law librarians and self-help attorneys as a way for people to get strategic or trial help after learning a little bit of the law and gathering their documents. Demand for limited scope services is likely to increase, particularly among knowledgeable consumers.
- A lawyer who shares the tasks of representation with clients can tap into many existing, free legal information and self-help resources [editor’s note: for example, www.legalyou.com] in order to prepare them for their role in the case.
- Maryland has been blessed with visionary leaders in the area of limited scope lawyering, who will take the time to help their colleagues to build a limited scope practice.
To learn more, and to watch the conference video, visit the free conference resources page at www.msba.org/limited-scope-resources.