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Summary of Alabama’s New Limited Scope Representation Rules

On March 26th, the Alabama Supreme Court adopted changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Professional Conduct which establish procedures for limited scope representation (LSR). Sometimes called “unbundling,” limited scope representation means agreeing with the client that the lawyer will provide services regarding only a certain area or task rather than the entire legal matter. Limited service representation can take place either out-of-court -- such as drafting of pleadings or trial preparation -- or in-court, such as a specific hearing.

LSR has always been permissible under Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2, and the bar’s general counsel’s office issued an opinion in 2010 that it was permissible for a lawyer to draft court pleadings without signing them or revealing his or her involvement to the court. However, because there were no procedures as to how to do LSR, it has not been used much in Alabama in the past.

The new rules regulate and codify how limited scope representation should take place -- for the benefit of clients, lawyers and the courts. The state bar pro bono committee which drafted them believes that the new rules will create a “win-win” situation for everyone: the clients get legal help they could not otherwise have afforded, lawyers earn fees they would not otherwise have received, and the courts benefit from better pleadings and better-prepared litigates.

The new LSR rule changes also provide an opportunity to expand your law practice. In other states which have adopted LSR rules, lawyers have profitably marketed a LSR practice to potential middle-income clients who would otherwise not be able to pay full freight. This is especially true in the area of family law, where motions regarding child support, visitation, and custody are suitable for both in-court and out-of-court limited scope representation. Under the new ACRP 87, you can provide in-court LSR without fear of getting trapped in a case beyond the scope of your agreement with the client.

Nationally recognized LSR expert Sue Talia has prepared LSR practice management materials which are posted on the Alabama bar website. She will also conduct a free webinar entitled “Expanding Your Practice Using Limited Scope Representation” on April 18th at 11:00 a.m. CDT, which has been approved for three hours of CLE credit. Click here to register for the webinar. Ms. Talia will also present four hours of CLE on how to profitably utilize limited scope representation in your practice at the state bar meeting in July.

Here is a summary of the changes:

Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 11. There are two changes to Rule 11 regarding the preparation of pleadings on a LSR drafting the pleadings for the client’s signature. The first change relaxes the usual Rule 11 standard that the attorney is certifying that to the best of his or her knowledge, information and belief that there is good ground to support it; the amendment provides that the drafting lawyer may rely on the pro se client’s representation of the facts unless he or she has reason to believe they are false or material or insufficient.

The second change is that the attorney need not sign or put his or her name on the pleading but shall include a notation at the end stating: “This document was prepared with the assistance of a licensed Alabama lawyer pursuant to Rule 1.2(c), Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct.” Some states don’t require any notation at all, which creates potential for problems with unauthorized practice of law and documents sold over the internet. A few states require the lawyer’s name be listed on the pleading, which has a chilling effect because lawyers are afraid they will be pulled into a case where they have not agreed to provide full representation. The new rule adopts a middle way which will alert clients that the documents should be prepared by an attorney and at the same time let the court know that an attorney has been involved.

Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 87. This new rule creates an expedited procedure for getting in and out of a case in a limited scope representation basis. The lawyer files a “notice of limited scope representation” with the court ahead of time or even at the time of a hearing. The purpose of that requirement is to prevent “after-the-fact” limited scope representation when a lawyer decides he or she has not been paid enough and is simply going to stop providing services. The filing notifies the court, the other parties, and the client that the attorney is only in the case for a specific purpose and defines the scope of that representation.

After the services are complete, the attorney files (and serves on his or her client) a “notice of completion of limited scope representation” and then is out of the case, without the necessity of leave of court. In other words, the lawyer doesn’t need to file a motion to withdraw and then have to wait for the court to grant the motion.

Rule 87 also provides that an attorney providing LSR is to be served with pleadings only for matters within the scope of his representation as set forth in the notice filed with the court.

The state bar has drafted forms LSR-1, -2, and -3 for use in filing an appearance and then getting out of the case on a LSR basis. Click here for the forms or go to www.alacourt.gov.

Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1. The change here simply provides that the scope of representation may be limited and sets the standard for competent representation.

Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2. The limited scope representation agreement must be in writing unless the representation consists solely of a telephone consultation, a clinic conducted by a pro bono program or Legal Services Alabama, or a court appointment. The writing requirement is critical for both the client and the lawyer so that there is no misunderstanding about exactly what the attorney is to do. The better practice is to have the client sign the agreement, but the rule doesn’t require it.

Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2 and 4.3. The client is considered to be unrepresented for purposes of dealings and communications except for matters within a written notice of limited scope representation provided to the opposing counsel. The rule follows a “bright line” approach, that is, the attorney providing LSR is to provide the opposing attorney with a notice which delineates the scope of the lawyer’s representation. As to matters outside that notice, the client is considered unrepresented.
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