LIMITED SCOPE LEGAL SERVICE: 5 Factors To Consider Before Going The Unbundled Route
80% of family law cases in California involve a self-represented party primarily due to the high cost of attorney representation. Limited scope service is a court-approved method for obtaining affordable attorney assistance. This guide will help you to determine if unbundling is an option for you.
1. Does your legal issue lend itself to unbundling or limited scope service?Family law. Eviction. Traffic violations. These are some areas of law that can possibly be "unbundled." (See "What Are Unbundled Legal Service? Understanding Limited Scope Representation" for an explanation of this type of service.) If your case is not too complex or specialized (for example, intellectual property or criminal law), limited scope service may be an option.
One area of law that is commonly unbundled is family law. This is due in part to the fact that so many people dealing with family law issues cannot afford a full scope attorney. Another reason is because many parts of family law can be divided into discrete (separate) tasks. For example, if you are requesting modification of child support, you may be able to complete the court forms yourself but need an attorney to calculate the appropriate support based on legal guidelines. Or, perhaps you are filing for divorce and there is little property to divide; you can pay an attorney to advise you on your rights and to review the agreement you draft yourself.
You will need to consult with an attorney who offers limited scope services to see if your case can be handled in such a manner.
2. Are you a hands-on manager with time-management skills?Because you will be representing yourself, you are required to follow proper legal procedure including proper service of process and submitting the proper documents. You do not get a "do over" or "get out of jail free" card if you do things incorrectly. There are many specific rules governing procedures and legal reasoning which may be quite confusing or overwhelming.
If you hire an attorney to do limited scope work, you will need to follow her guidance closely so that you fulfill all of the tasks that you are required to do. For instance, you may hire your attorney to draft a legal memo and complete court forms. This leaves you with the responsibility to file and serve these documents in a timely manner as well as possibly appear at your hearing as your own attorney.
3. Do you have the time to devote to this unfamiliar and demanding process?When hiring your limited scope attorney, you can choose a range of services which will affect how much of the matter you will handle and how much the attorney will handle. By its very definition, limited scope service means that the attorney does not cover every last detail of the legal matter; therefore, you will need to stay on top of your case, asking questions and clarifying what duties you have versus what duties your attorney is responsible for. (This should all be clarified in your legal services agreement.)
This responsibility takes not only the ability to follow directions but the time in your schedule to do so. If you are overwhelmed with work and other responsibilities, you may need to hire a full scope attorney who can attend to all matters within your case.
4. Do you have the emotional and mental strength to manage your own case?An attorney's job is to be objective while acting as your legal advocate. As a third party and a legal professional, an attorney can view your legal matter within the context of the law and the opposing party's point of view. As your own attorney, it is often difficult to view the case from an objective point of view because you are emotionally involved. Further, you may not have the perspective of someone who has studied and practiced law.
If you choose limited scope representation, you will need to be able to handle more of this emotional and mental strain. You will need to utilize legal coaching and be able to listen, process objectively, and make decisions based on legal reasoning rather than emotion.
5. Are you able to understand the law well enough to manage your own case?In addition to being emotionally and mentally strong, you will need to be able to understand the law well enough to make appropriate decisions and effective arguments. Whether your limited scope attorney is explaining how to write a declaration or how the law governs your situation, you must be able to comprehend what your attorney tells you so that you can handle the matter appropriately.
So, is hiring a limited scope attorney right for you?The benefit of limited scope representation is that you can save money on tasks you handle yourself and still access the professional legal work for areas too difficult for you to handle on your own. Approximately 80% of family law litigants in California handle their own case as some point during the process. This is usually due to lack of funds. Limited scope service may be a way for you to spend less money but still get the legal assistance you need.