Limited Scope Representation: What is it and how can I get it?

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What is limited scope representation?

A cost-effective approach to getting legal representation.

Limited scope representation is when you and your attorney agree that the attorney will provide some, but not all, of the work involved in your legal matter. You are still with responsible for completing all of the tasks that the attorney did not agree to provide.  Limited scope representation is also called “unbundling” or “discrete task representation.”

Read the Rules: Md. Rules 2-131 and 3-131


What are some examples of services that an attorney can offer me on a limited scope basis? 

Preparation and advice

  • Consultations
  • Legal advice
  • Legal research
  • Investigation
  • Negotiations

Document drafting and review

  • Service of process
  • Pre-trial motions
  • Motions
  • Discovery
  • Discovery responses
  • Financial affidavit

One-Time Representation in Court or for Discovery

  • Court hearing
  • Status conference
  • Deposition
  • Mediation
  • Settlement conference
  • Motion hearing


How does it work?

Once you and your attorney agree upon what tasks the attorney will perform, you will enter into a written agreement, signed by both of you that sets out in detail the agreed-upon tasks to be completed by the attorney.  This agreement must be signed before any legal services are provided.  The attorney will only charge you to perform the specific legal tasks that are contained in the written agreement.  You must pay the agreed upon fee before the attorney will provide the services.  If you want additional legal services that are not contained in your written agreement, you and your attorney must enter into a new, signed agreement that specifically sets out the additional services agreed upon by you and your attorney. 


What kind of questions should I ask my attorney about limited scope representation?

You and your attorney should have a thorough discussion about all aspects of your case and agree on your respective responsibilities.  Among the issues you should discuss are:

  • Do you offer limited scope representation and how experienced are you in doing it?
  • Is my case a good fit for limited scope representation?
  • What tasks should you, as the attorney complete?  What tasks should I take on?
  • Who will talk with the other side?
  • How do we handle emergencies that may arise?
  • Who will draft documents for the court?
  • Who will appear in court or at mediation or settlement conferences?
  • What do you charge for this type of representation?  When do I pay?


How do I benefit from limited scope representation?

You can get help with parts of your case that are too difficult or complicated for you to handle on your own.  You may not have enough money to hire an attorney to handle your entire case.  With limited scope representation, you can hire an attorney for only parts of your case and limit the amount of money you need to pay for the attorney’s work. 


How is limited scope representation different from traditional full scope representation?

In traditional full scope legal representation, you hire an attorney to handle all of the work in your legal matter, from start to finish.  In limited scope representation, also known as unbundled legal services, you hire the attorney to handle some, but not all, of the work involved in your legal matter with the understanding that you are responsible for completing all of the tasks that the attorney did not agree to provide.


How is limited scope representation similar to full scope representation?

Limited scope representation does not mean that the attorney is providing you with second-rate service.  Limited scope representation is the practice of law and permitted by the rules governing attorney conduct, the same as full scope representation.  Once you and your attorney agree on which legal services the attorney will provide to you, the attorney’s duty of care and ethical responsibilities for those limited services are the same as they would be if the attorney was providing you with those same professional services in the context of full representation. 


How do I find an attorney who offers limited scope representation?

Civil Justice, Inc. operates an attorney referral service that can refer you to an attorney who offers limited scope representation in areas such as family law and consumer law.  You can reach Civil Justice at (410) 706-0174, option 1, or you can complete an online intake form.


Checklist for self-represented persons working with attorneys

  1. Hire someone with experience - If an attorney has little or no experience in the type of case that you have, it will be very hard for that attorney to give you advice specific to that type of case. The attorney has a duty to warn you about related issues or problems. The attorney cannot warn you about possibilities that they are not able to predict (based on past experience). Ask for a referral.

  2. Be careful about looking for limited representation in an emergency - Plan in advance for hiring an attorney. A rush for a "quick document review" is much riskier if the attorney will only be involved in that brief transaction. There is no chance to fix any bad advice. Consider asking the attorney to help you move the deadline. This will give the attorney adequate time for review or representation.

  3. Make sure you and the attorney are clear about precisely what services the attorney will perform for you, and the fees that you will pay for those services – Attorneys in Maryland are required to describe, in a written agreement that you must sign before work will begin, exactly what services the attorney will provide, and what tasks remain your responsibility.  This agreement will also state the fees for the services that the attorney agrees to provide.  There should be no confusion about what the attorney is doing and what you are doing.  If you have any questions, make sure that you ask the attorney to clarify before you sign the agreement.  Remember that an agreement for limited scope services not only limits the fees that you pay, but that it also limits the services that the attorney will perform.   For example - If the attorney agrees to review a document that does not mean that the attorney will help in a negotiation. Read the Rule: Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct 19-301.2c

  4. Document all of the decisions – This is good advice in any type of legal work. But in “unbundled” cases, it is even more important. Make sure that both of you sign off on any changes to the initial agreement.

  5. Ask for the "why" - Limited scope cases cases are a partnership with the attorney. You need to understand the "big picture" of what is likely to happen in your case – not just the piece that you ask an attorney to review.

  6. Understand if the attorney says that certain tasks are too technical or difficult - Some tasks require the expertise of an attorney.

  7. Make sure you know when the attorney’s involvement has ended - There should be no surprises either to you or the attorney. If your case involves a series of steps, ask the attorney to confirm the end of their involvement in a matter in writing.

Siobhan Madison, Esq., Civil Justice Network
Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2020.”