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Unbundled legal services and attorney of record.

San Diego, CA |

If I am representing myself in superior court in an unlimited civil case and I hire an attorney for limited services (“unbundled legal services”) how does that work with me being self-represented? Does the attorney need to file anything with the court? In my case, I am the plaintiff and the defendants have an attorney. I have the sense that the defendants are lying and presenting false evidence to their attorney and think they can get away with it because they have an attorney. I don’t think their attorney is yet aware that the defendants are doing this and is being stringed along. I’m doing a good job so far representing myself and we are in discovery. My case might gain more strength if I have an actual attorney conducting questions at possible depositions and other discovery procedures to let the defendants know that I mean business. Is this a common scenario?

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Attorney answers 4

Posted

I'm not sure what your question is, or what the scenario is with "your attorney." If the attorney is merely giving you some guidance, but you're on record as pro per, there is nothing to file. I would also note, however, it's not common. If you're in an unlimited civil case, there is allegedly much at stake, and you should probably consider a "full time," of record attorney. Perhaps most importantly, your current limited representation attorney and your attorney agreement with them should both clearly explain the scope and extent of the legal representation.

The information/answer is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your individual situation. This attorney is only licensed to practice law in California. Your question and this answer do not create an attorney-client relationship. Do not send/post any confidential information.

Posted

You have several options available to you when using unbundled legal services. You can elect to have the attorney enter the litigation as your attorney of record for a limited period of time (if the attorney is willing to do so), or you can keep the attorney behind the scenes, giving you advice and counsel, and ghost writing documents for you. If you want the attorney to appear in court or to take a deposition, you will need to substitute the attorney into the case as your attorney of record.

What you suggest is not yet what I would call common, but it is a far improvement over non-representation. The more time I spend doing litigation, the more complex I realize if really is. Good, experienced attorneys see multiple levels of strategy involved in the process and I have not doubt whatsoever that a non-represented person trying to be their own attorney is going to hurt their case, even if they never know it.

You are thinking in the right direction if you are unwilling or unable to have an attorney of record for the full litigation, your option is better than being completely on your own.

Good luck to you.

This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.

Posted

I agree with Mr. O'Brien's comments and it is not a common scenario. If you want to show the other side that "you mean business", you are better off hiring legal counsel to take over the case. When I am facing an unrepresented opponent, my normal impression is that they either couldn't afford legal counsel or the case is so weak that they couldn't convince an attorney to take it. Either way, my client almost always has an advantage due to the other side lacking an attorney and it usually has to do with that person lacking knowledge of procedure rules.

Also, I would personally never work in such a limited capacity on a case. I'm either "all in" or not at all. Even a "part time" attorney on a case could face a malpractice lawsuit if something goes wrong.

First, the firm is a debt relief agency according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. We help people file for bankruptcy. We also do other stuff and we do it well, but Congress wants me to post this notice. Second, nothing on this site is legal advice. You are not my client unless you enter into a written agreement signed by you and me.

Asker

Posted

What I meant by “mean business” is simply based on a (mis)perception, perhaps accurate to an extent but not true in all cases, that pro pers “don’t know what they’re doing,” are not to be taken seriously, and can be “jacked around.” In my case, I’m looking at the possibility of having to depose some of defendants’ agents and witnesses as they appear to be producing false documents. However, I’ve done pretty well representing myself. The defendants had to “get rid” of their first attorney because I was too efficient for him and now they have what they think is a “better” attorney. I have a PhD and many cross-disciplinary skills and knowledge, have a knack for law and strategy, and am good at research. In the case of their first attorney, he played into the overly general presumption that “attorneys ALWAYS know better than pro pers.” He tried to bully me, challenge me, and even made up non-existent laws to try to scare me. However, that all backfired on him. However, I continue to learn details of law from many respectable, very bright, and very talented and experienced attorneys on avvo. It’s difficult for an attorney responding to a question on avvo to know the full context of where an asker is coming from. Someone might ask a purely theoretical question, or a specific procedural or substantive detail within a larger pattern not necessarily known to an answering attorney. From observing how different attorneys answers questions, and I’ve seen the full spectrum of attorneys, with different degrees of knowledge, attitudes, etc., and have even been able to stump and correct some attorneys with not so easy questions of law. From what I’ve seen, I’ve noticed it’s better to limit answers to the scope of a question and not make or dwell on too many presumptions otherwise.

Carl H Starrett II

Carl H Starrett II

Posted

Without context, any answers you receive are of limited value.

Asker

Posted

That's exactly my point.

Carl H Starrett II

Carl H Starrett II

Posted

Then what's the point of asking questions in this forum when you know that your style of withholding pertinent information will produce answers of limited value?

Asker

Posted

Two of Avvo's "Tips for asking good questions": "Be brief and to the point- Lawyers are more likely to look at- and answer- concise questions that clearly pertain to their practice areas..." and "Stay focused- Limit your question to a single legal issue. If you have additional legal concerns, you can post additional questions."

Carl H Starrett II

Carl H Starrett II

Posted

If you are the poster of the "discovery is continuing" questions, I would suggest that need to reevaluate your perception of what you describe as a "knack for law and strategy" and your legal research skills. I recently heard from a gentlemen who, like you, had a PhD and was trying to help his mom file a Chapter 13 with a lien strip. He fancied himself quite the legal researcher and his ability to quote portions of the Bankruptcy Code was actually impressive, better than many bankruptcy attorneys that I know. I think his degrees were in an engineering discipline. He lacked the practical skills to put his knowledge to work. Sure, he got the forms filled out properly, but he had screwed up the case so badly that I could not help him.

Asker

Posted

I am fully aware of and thankful for your supposed concerns or views, even if merely hypothetical and polemical. I will say I have represented myself in three cases before and have won each time against attorneys, and each time I learn a little more. In the old days, a person could take the bar without having gone to law school, merely self taught. Here, I asked a specific point related to depositions, which I’ve never done, and the question has been very well answered by several attorneys. I may or may not actually do a deposition, but am thinking ahead of options and strategy. If I have further concerns, I will ask or do as needed.

Asker

Posted

I learn from ALL answers given on avvo. Not only do I learn law, but avvo is also an interesting social medium where I learn about different attorneys, some better than others, some more knowledgeable than others, some more helpful than others, and different attorney’s personal “styles.” Without question, not all attorneys are created equal. There are serious attorneys, and there are even jokers. I’ve gotten a fair number of dumb, incorrect, superficial, unrelated, and useless answers to some questions. I could provide links to some of those posts but that would be improper. Simply see Attorney McCall’s reference above to some attorneys “grandly filling the role of potted plant.” Why would I want an attorney like that? I don’t fancy myself and likewise I like attorneys who get into the substance of things without an attitude. Avvo entices attorneys to join to, amongst other things, “set yourself apart from your peers,” and avvo clearly displays the full range. Likewise, there is a full range of “askers” on avvo. Why engage in presumptions and generalizations if everything is incredibly varied and fact-specific? I rest my case.

Posted

I am glad that in writing this post you got specific about the services you are thinking of using as part of an "unbundled" services agreement. There are lots of aspects of litigation that can be handled efficiently, economically, and without much risk by an attorney working on a limited task-specific basis. But, deposition is not generally one of those tasks.

Depositions are among the most difficult and strategic of legal skills, even for skilled practitioners. It is very common to see an attorney sitting in a deposition grandly filling the role of potted plant, asking questions that will result in no useful material, or defending against questions with knee-jerk precision based on some generic checklist. It is hard to imagine a pro per doing a worse or less productive job.

In fact, no attorney should sit down in a depo unless and until that attorney knows and can articulate what s/he intends to accomplish. There is a whole list -- several pages long -- of legitimate potential purposes and objectives of a depo, but none of them will be accomplished by a deposing attorney who does not know his/her purpose and objective. A bad depo will hurt your case more than any other single constituent element of your action. A good depo can make all the difference in the outcome as well as the course of the remaining proceedings.

A good depo requires a mastery of the facts of the case, not dropping in to ask questions for show. Of course, if you can retain an attorney to achieve "mastery of the facts of the case" before doing your depo, then that may be a very different story. In truth, however, most unbundled arrangements pre-suppose that the services provided will not require large blocks of time in preparation. Unbundled arrangements tend to be mostly for routine services that can require extensive technical knowledge, but don't require taking responsibility for and executing on fact-specific litigation strategy.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

Neil Pedersen

Neil Pedersen

Posted

Absolutely correct. If you intend to hire an attorney to take a deposition, you need to be willing to pay the attorney to fully understand the case, which will take time. If you do, a prepared, skilled litigator will be far more effective than any pro per party could.

Asker

Posted

Thank you for your informative answers and comments. More and more I think I could effectively handle a deposition. No one knows that facts inside and out nor has critically analyzed them as well as I have. So far I have a very strong case, a solid complaint backed with good evidence on all claims, and have filed successful motions which were undefeated by the defendants’ prior attorney, which then they dumped, and which goes to Ms. McCall’s point that not all attorneys do a good job. I have strong confidence in being able to strategically make the specific and pointed questions necessary to establish what I need. My only concern was with being “perceived” as a pro per who is not to be taken as seriously as an attorney, and thus as a license for witnesses to lie at a deposition. But that might simply be a misconception which I could overcome if I effectively handle the substance of the matter as required by the rules of law. If I feel I still need an attorney for a depo or trial (if it comes to that) I could do a lot to help the attorney effectively grasp the important facts.

Neil Pedersen

Neil Pedersen

Posted

I applaud your successful historical results and your confidence about taking the deposition. No doubt intimate knowledge of the facts will help you. As an attorney who has taken and defended hundreds of depositions, I can tell you that there is no way a pro per party will take the kind of deposition and experienced attorney would take. A truly effective attorney in deposition is multitasking at every moment of the proceeding. Interpreting words, tones of voice, body language, facial movements while listening to the substance of the response, and making immediate decisions about where to go with the next question based on the last response. There is strategy that must be employed throughout the deposition, including when to ask particular questions based on witness fatigue and perception of weak moments in the witness' coaching. The deposition plan often changes based on witness moods. Properly forming the questions is critical. One purpose of the deposition is to learn information from the other side, but another very important purpose is to capture usable testimony that is accessible to you at trial to impeach the witness if he or she testifies differently. That means your questions must be legally acceptable (non-objectionable). Finally, it is not uncommon for opposing parties to attempt to intimidate and fluster a pro per party taking a deposition by interposing every possible objection and engaging in other disrupting conduct. If you are not very confident in what you are doing, it can be flustering. Finally, perhaps the best reason to have an attorney handle this very important part of the litigation is that you are absolutely incapable of dispassionate objective evaluation of things, especially if you are taking the deposition of the wrongdoer on the other side. Emotions will interfere with your effort, no question. The deponent may also be far less willing to answer questions you ask, as opposed to an attorney he or she does not know. Good luck to you.

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