Partial Legal Representation: A Cost-Effective Option in a Bad Economy
Partial legal representation, also called "unbundling" or "limited scope representation," is where a client hires an attorney to only handle a limited aspect of the case, as opposed to full representation. Any limitations are stated explicitly and completely so that the client is consenting after adequate disclosure.
Legal fees, in addition to court costs, can be quite expensive, regardless of the type of case. Partial representation allows a client to prioritize and save costs by only hiring an attorney for limited aspects of a case. Oftentimes, attorney retainers are lower since the attorney will anticipate lower fees versus anticipated fees under a full service contract. The purpose of the retainer is to help ensure that the attorney will be paid for services rendered by having funds on hand to pay for the service.
Basically, legal representation can be limited to (i) the level of service rendered or (ii) by the facets of a case.
Level of Service Rendered
Does the client only wish to have access to the attorney for legal advice as the case unfolds? Does the client want the attorney to draft documents? Does the client wish the attorney to appear in court?
Where there is limited representation, the client and attorney agree on the scope of representation. For example, if the attorney is only rendering legal advice and will not be appearing in court or drafting documents, there could be a consulting-only fee agreement. Or, maybe the client only wishes for the attorney to review or draft a marital settlement agreement. If the attorney will only be drafting documents, there could be a fee agreement as a "lawyer scrivener" or drafter. A combination of both partial levels of service could be a scrivener/consulting agreement.
If the lawyer is only providing scrivener services in drafting documents, the attorney need not become attorney of record. In this case, the attorney's services do not even need to be revealed, unless the client is requesting attorney's fees. Since the attorney is not formally listed as the "attorney of record" for a party on the court documents, no formal withdrawal by the attorney is necessary.
Facets of a Case
In this type of partial representation, the client may wish to only hire attorney for a specific hearing. Perhaps the client does not wish for the attorney to represent him/her in a trial. Maybe the client wants to have legal representation for only one issue, for example, a domestic violence allegation by a spouse but not representation for the divorce.
Where there is more involvement by the attorney-above simply drafting documents-there must be a Notice of Limited Scope (court form MC-950) that is filed with the court, which indicates the attorney's contracted responsibilities. Here, the attorney does get put on record as representing a party. Therefore, once those services are complete, a formal withdrawal is necessary. Specifically, the attorney must provide notice to the client of the intention to withdraw by sending the client an Application to Be Relieved as Counsel Upon Completion of Limited Scope Representation. The client then has 15 days to object. If the client objects, a hearing is scheduled no later than 25 days from the date the objection is filed so the court can determine whether the attorney will be relieved.
* The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization