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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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