What is Limited Scope Representation?
Limited Scope Representation is an attorney-client relationship where the attorney and client agree that the attorney will handle only certain aspects of the client’s case and the client will be responsible for the rest of the client’s case. Limited Scope Representation is also known as unbundled legal services, or discrete task representation.
Two types of Limited Scope Representation
There are two types of Limited Scope Representation in California: (1) Noticed Representation, and (2) Undisclosed Representation.
Noticed Representation is when the Limited Scope Attorney, although only contracted to work on specific tasks, will enter the case as the client’s attorney of record and files a form with the the court. The form is called Notice of Limited Scope Representation (Judicial Council Form FL-950). The form serves to notify all parties, attorneys, and the court of the specific issues for which the Limited Scope Attorney represents the client. Once the form is filed, the client is represented by counsel (albeit on a limited basis as specified in the notice) and the client is no longer self-represented, or “Pro Per.” A Limited Scope Attorney who agrees to make a court appearance for the client must file Form FL-950.
Undisclosed Representation is when the Limited Scope Attorney does not enter the case as the client’s attorney of record. The client remains self-represented, or “Pro Per.” The Limited Scope Attorney is not the client’s attorney of record and the attorney may not make any court appearances on the client’s behalf. Thus, Undisclosed Representation does not require Form FL-950 to be filed. The attorney acts as a consultant to the client and works behind the scenes, whether negotiating settlement, drafting paperwork (“ghostwriting”), or providing legal counseling and advice.
Ms. Thomas does not make court appearances. She practices only Undisclosed Representation. She does not enter the case as your attorney of record; instead, you remain self-represented (“Pro Per”) as you consult with Ms. Thomas.
Benefits of Limited Scope Representation
Unlike traditional full representation, where an attorney is retained with a large retainer deposit to handle your case from start to finish, a Limited Scope Attorney offers an alternative representation structure that is flexible: you pay a smaller retainer deposit, and then you pay as you go and only for the services that you need. A Limited Scope Attorney can handle specific discrete tasks, allowing you to handle the rest and minimize your fees. At the same time, a Limited Scope Attorney can also handle your case from start to finish, except for certain exclusions determined when you retain the attorney. For example, a Limited Scope Attorney might help you with paperwork but not make any court appearances. The attorney might assist you with the property division aspect of your case but not custody and support. Or the attorney might prepare the settlement agreement after you have already negotiated the terms.
Limited Scope Representation allows you to represent yourself (“Pro Per”) and handle the parts of your case that you feel comfortable with, while having the benefit of an experienced Family Law Attorney by your side whenever you need it or for the more complex aspects of your case. Self-represented litigants who have the benefit of legal counsel are better informed and better prepared to present their case to the court. And you pay a more affordable overall fee since you only pay for the legal advice and services you need.
Examples of Limited Scope Arrangements
Here are examples of situations that may be suitable for and benefit from Limited Scope services:
- Initial consultation: If you are considering filing for divorce or if you have just been served with divorce papers and you need to speak with an attorney to understand the paperwork and learn about your rights and next steps, then we can help. Our office offers one-time consultations if all you need is to meet with an attorney for an hour to have your questions answered and learn about your options on how to proceed.
- Uncontested divorces–agreement has been reached: If you and your spouse have separated and you have already done the hard work of reaching an agreement on how you would like to share custody and divide your property, then Limited Scope Representation may be ideal for your situation. Our office can assist you with preparing the appropriate court documents to finalize your case. We can draft the Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) to memorialize your agreement in writing and submit the MSA to the court for entry of judgment.
- Uncontested divorces–agreement on the horizon: If you have not yet reached an agreement, but you feel confident that you and your spouse will be able to reach an amicable resolution in the near future, then Limited Scope Representation could be the right choice for you. Our office can provide ongoing consultations throughout your divorce, assist you in preparing the necessary paperwork along the way, help you negotiate a settlement of all issues in your case, and prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement for entry of judgment with the court.
- Parties are attending private mediation: If you and your spouse are attending private mediation, the mediator is acting in a neutral capacity and does not represent either of you. However, you are both entitled to have independent legal counsel while attending mediation. Limited Scope Representation can be of benefit to you while you attend mediation. Our office can provide ongoing consultations while you attend mediation with your spouse, and we can also assist you with reviewing any documents prepared by the mediator.
- Filing a Request for Order: If you need temporary orders (such as temporary custody orders and support orders) before your case is finalized, but you have not been able to reach an agreement with your spouse on these interim matters, then you will need to file a Request for Order (“RFO”) with the court to obtain the needed orders. Our office can help you prepare the required paperwork to file your RFO. Even after the RFO is filed, our office can still help you reach an agreement with the other side to avoid having to go to court. However, if court is inevitable, then you would make the court appearance on your own or retain another attorney to appear in court with you.
- Responding to a Request for Order: If a Request for Order has already been filed, our office can help you prepare the appropriate paperwork to respond to the RFO and you would make the court appearance on your own or retain another attorney to appear in court with you. Our office can also help you negotiate a settlement of the issues raised in the RFO and draft a written agreement to resolve the RFO so that you do not have to go to court.
- Document review: If you and your spouse have a draft Marital Settlement Agreement prepared, you may need an attorney to review the document. Whether you prepared the MSA, or it was prepared by your spouse, your spouse’s attorney, or a mediator, you would benefit from having your own attorney review the MSA. Our office can meet with you to review the agreement before you finalize the document and sign.
The Difference Between Limited Scope Representation and Other Types of Representation
- Limited Scope Representation is not Full Representation. Full representation is the traditional arrangement where an attorney is retained to handle all aspects of the client’s case. With Limited Scope Representation, an attorney is retained on a limited scope basis to handle only certain tasks as needed by the client.
- Limited Scope Representation is not Collaborative Family Law. Collaborative Family Law is an arrangement where both parties retain their own Collaborative Family Lawyer to represent their respective interests and the parties pledge to work together to reach a resolution and not go to court. If either party later wishes to go to court, then both attorneys withdraw from the representation and the parties must each retain new independent counsel.
- Limited Scope Representation is not Mediation. Mediation is an arrangement where both parties choose to meet with a neutral mediator to help the parties reach an agreement. The mediator may or may not be an attorney, but the mediator is neutral and does not represent either party and does not provide legal advice. During the mediation process, the parties are entitled to have their own independent legal counsel. With Limited Scope Representation, Ms. Thomas can represent your interests as you go through the mediation process with your spouse and the mediator.
- Limited Scope Representation is not Dual Representation. Dual representation is an arrangement where after the parties provide informed, written consent, the parties choose to be represented by the same attorney. Normally, attorneys represent only one party and do not represent both parties because the parties have adverse interests. Under Limited Scope Representation, Ms. Thomas represents you and your interests, not your spouse’s.
Is Limited Scope Representation Right For You?
Not all Family Law cases are well suited for Limited Scope Representation, including cases that are highly contested, extremely time sensitive (e.g., Ex Parte emergencies), exigent in nature (e.g., domestic violence restraining orders), involve very technical matters, or involve issues that rely on a complex analysis of the law. For example, a heated custody battle would generally require a full representation attorney. Cases that require formal discovery to investigate property and finances would require a full representation attorney. There could be other reasons why a case is not appropriate for Limited Scope Representation.
Even if Limited Scope Representation may be appropriate for your case, there are still risks. Every case, whether complex or seemingly straightforward, is unique and requires an evaluation by an attorney to determine the appropriate type of representation. Contact our office for an initial consultation with a Family Law Attorney to learn more about your options so that you can make the best choice for you and your family.
The California Courts provides more information about Limited Scope Representation.