Sunday, January 03, 2010

Limited Representation--An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

This New York Times editorial, written by New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. and California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, makes a cogent argument for closing the "justice gap" by unbundling legal services. Observing that many litigants can no longer afford legal representation, the two justices voice their support for so-called limited scope representation which allows attorneys to "take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice ... that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities." Limited scope representation is the subject of ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2, adopted by forty-one states, which provides that "A lawyer may limit the scope of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent." The ABA Section of Litigation recently released the report of the Modest Means Task Force, which concluded that the time was ripe to move ahead with this initiative. The alternative is that many litigants will have no representation whatsoever. As Chief Justices Broderick and George conclude,

... [F]or those whose only option is to go it alone, at least some limited, affordable time witn a lawyer is a valuable option we should all encourage.

In fact, we belileve that limited-scope-representation rules will allow lawyers--especially sole practitioners--to service people who might otherwise have never sought legal assistance. We also believe that carefully drafted ethical rules allowing laywers to handle part of a case give the legal profession an opportunity to help the courts address the ever-growing number of litigants who cross our thresholds. This cause has special relevance now as state courts are faced with serious cutbacks in finacing, forcing some to close their doors one day a week or a month, lay off front-line staff members and delay jury trials. None of this bodes well for the judicial system or for those seeking to vindicate their rights through the courts, whether they have a lawyer or not.

We need members of the legal profession to join with us ... in meeting this challenge by making unbundled legal services and other innovative solutions--like self-help Web sites, online assistance programs and court self-help centers--work for all who need them.

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