Thursday, May 14, 2015

Limited Scope Representation Retainer Agreements

Illinois has recognized limited scope representation for a long time. In 1983, an Illinois State Bar Association opinion (here) approved the preparation of pleadings for a pro-se litigant in a dissolution of marriage proceeding. But the real impetus behind unbundled legal services came with the adoption of Rule 1.2(C) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct in 2010. Rule 1.2(C) specifically authorizes the provision of discrete legal services: “A lawyer may limit the scope of representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.”

Several sample limited scope retainer agreements are available. The Chicago Bar Association offers one here. The ABA provides templates here. These and other sample agreements nicely define the scope of representation through a “check-the-box” format. But the forms do not directly address the requirement of Rule 1.0(e) that to obtain informed consent a lawyer must explain the “material risks” and “reasonably available alternatives” to the limited scope representation. While each case has its own particular risks and alternatives, it seems that the usual alternatives to be discussed include (1) the client handling the entire case without counsel; (2) full representation by counsel; and (3) the possibility of representation by a legal aid or pro bono attorney. Material risks might include that the lawyer’s factual and legal investigation will not be as complete as when the lawyer provides full representation and that the client’s lack of understanding of laws, rules, and court procedures may adversely affect the client’s ability to introduce evidence; explain his position to the court; present and respond to pleadings, notices, and motions; understand court rulings; and properly evaluate settlement offers.

Best practices would seem to dictate that the limited scope retainer agreement contain at least a summary of the alternatives and material risks discussed with the client.

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