Can I represent myself and have an attorney represent me in parts of the lawsuit where I need help?

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The short answer is yes. In fact, there are some of attorneys – mostly at smaller law firms – where their law practice is, in large part, providing just such services. Be rest assured, it is completely legal and proper in California and some – but not all – other states.

The concept goes by several names or references, such as Limited Scope Representation; unbundled legal services; and à la carte legal services.

Under the prior rules, the standard was once a lawyer was in a case, the lawyer was the lawyer in the case and under the professional standards was then held to be responsible for the entire case or matter. Some lawyers with special fee agreements or special limited engagement agreements sought to limit her or his involvement in a matter, but under the rules such “unbundled services” were never formally recognized and the effectiveness of the agreement was unclear. In other words, lawyers who were “unbundling services” took the risk that in a given situation the professional standards required them to be responsible for the whole case whether they agreed to be or not.

In recent years, many in the legal profession understand that a large number of matters do not require full-representation and there are many people who cannot afford to pay a full fee yet want, and need, to hire lawyers to protect their interests in a court case. In California, there is a rule of court – that many lawyers are unaware of – that allows lawyers to appear in court on a limited basis and effectively represent the client at the critical points in the court process.

The California Judicial Council has created a particular form – Notice of Limited Scope Representation – for the client and attorney to complete, sign and file with the court which gives notice to the court that an attorney is providing limited scope representation to a self-represented party (referred to as “in pro per”). In addition to the form being filed with the court, it is served on the opposing party’s attorney (or a party without an attorney.) Thus, all involved in the case are notified that the attorney is providing limited scope representation with a description of the legal services to be provided.

One benefit in using the form is that once it is served on the opposing counsel (or a party without an attorney), the opposition is required to send to your ‘limited scope attorney’ a copy of every document the opposition serves you until a completed Notice of Substitution of Attorney form is filed with the court. This is true even if the document has nothing to do with the limited scope of the attorney’s representation.

The California Rules of Court do not make use of the form mandatory and there are instances where use of the form is unnecessary. For instance, at any time, an attorney can simply be the client’s “ghost-writer” for pleadings, motions, discovery requests, discovery responses, and letters to the opposition with, for instance, proposals for settlement. No disclosure is required nor necessary.

However, while there is no requirement that a Notice of Limited Representation form be filed with the court and served on opposing counsel where a deposition is taken and the deposed party wants an attorney to sit-in the client’s deposition to protect his interests from improper questioning, it is probably a good idea for the notice to be filed with the court and served if the client wants the attorney to take the deposition of another party or person. The same is true if the client wishes the attorney to appear in court for him at, say, a motion hearing or settlement conference. And, with the proper completion, filing and serving of a “Notice of Limited Scope Representation” form, a client can hire a limited scope representation attorney for the purpose of being the client’s attorney at a trial.

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