Across the country, the civil justice system is undergoing a transformation. More and more litigants are appearing in court without lawyers, making up well over half of the civil litigants in Illinois and closer to 75% nationally. Self-representation is no longer limited to the poorest users of the court system; growing numbers of middle-class people and families are also going it alone as it becomes increasingly challenging to find affordable legal representation.
Enter the limited scope legal services movement, which tracks the greater global movement toward unbundled services in industries as diverse as cable, travel, fitness, news, and financial services. In limited scope (aka unbundling or a la carte legal service), lawyers help potential clients for only a portion of a case, making sure limited representation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client has given informed consent. Using these rules, lawyers can focus their representation on the most important or most complex parts of a case, while their client handles the simpler matters independently. The underserved middle market those who make too much to qualify for already overstretched pro bono and legal aid services and too little for market rate attorneys is fertile ground for unbundled legal services. These are people who often might need just a little legal help perhaps coaching or forms preparation but are capable of handling some of the case on their own.
Offering flexible and customizable representation options through limited scope services is a core principle of the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (see previous post). JEP lawyers are trained in unbundling and taught how to ethically and appropriately offer a diverse range of affordable legal services. Today, the majority of JEP attorneys offer limited scope representation to potential clients and are seeing the benefits to both them and their clients firsthand.
In an effort to expand the pool of Illinois attorneys offering limited scope services and to meet growing client demand, the CBF worked with several partners to create two new practice resources for lawyers who are seeking to incorporate limited scope into their practices: the Limited Scope Representation Toolkit and the Unbundled Services to Expand your Practice webinar. The toolkit has everything an attorney needs in order to get started with limited scope: relevant rules and court forms, tips for identifying good limited scope candidates and discussing limited scope representation with them, an Attorney and Client Assignment Checklist, and a sample Engagement Agreement and Disengagement Letter. Attorneys can watch the webinar to gain additional practice tips and to become eligible to apply for new limited scope referral panels set up in partnership with the Chicago Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service.
Earlier this year, in an effort to better connect people seeking limited scope services with attorneys who are offering them, the CBF partnered with the CBA to develop these limited scope referral panels in the areas of domestic relations and landlord/tenant. The free referral lists are available at various locations within the courthouse and online for anyone looking for limited scope legal services. Attorneys are added to the panels on a quarterly basis but applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
Limited scope representation can be a big part of the solution for the significant numbers of families facing legal problems but lacking the resources necessary to hire a private attorney for the entirety of the case. It can also be a great way for attorneys to expand their practice by focusing on this untapped segment of the legal consumer market a true win-win opportunity!