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New help for limited scope representation

Attorneys wishing to represent clients in a limited way in family law matters now have available to them a variety of forms to ensure that they and their clients agree on the scope of representation.

The forms, and two new rules, were created as a result of the large number of unrepresented litigants in family courts throughout California. If they cannot afford full representation, many would like the assistance of a lawyer for parts of their cases. For their part, attorneys need the ability to substitute out of cases when they are completed.

The Judicial Council approved the new forms at the urging of its Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee, which concluded that limited scope representation helps pro pers:

  • Prepare documents accurately;

  • Prepare their cases better than if left on their own;

  • Obtain representation for portions of their cases, such as court hearings; and

  • Obtain assistance in preparing, understanding and enforcing court orders.

The committee agreed that such assistance limits wasted time and can reduce docket congestion and demands on court personnel.

The Access to Justice Commission has prepared a package of family law risk management materials, including sample fee agreements, change of scope letters and educational handouts for clients. The packet is designed to be used in conjunction with the new rules and forms and will be available soon. Family law practitioners are advised to use the materials as a guide, but to tailor them to meet their own needs and the needs of their clients.

If an attorney makes a court appearance in a family law matter and he or she plans to limit the scope of the appearance, using the new forms is the safest way to go about it, says Bonnie Hough, a senior attorney in the Center for Families, Children & the Courts,

"These forms are designed to make it clear what the scope of the representation is and to make sure everybody knows what's going on, including opposing counsel," Hough said.

Limited scope representation, also known in legal jargon as "unbundling," is common particularly when it comes to helping people prepare documents, sometimes called ghostwriting. California is one of only six states that specifically sanctions unbundling, although other states are studying it. Each of the six states has approached unbundling somewhat differently to conform with ethics and civil procedure rules.

In California, when it comes to making court appearances, attorneys worry that once they are involved in a case, they may have difficulty ending that involvement.

New California Rules of Court 5.70 and 5.71 protect both the attorney and the consumer. Under rule 5.70, an attorney in a family law matter can assist a party in preparing documents without disclosing that assistance within the text of the document. The rule does not apply to an attorney who has made a general appearance or has agreed to make an appearance on any issue that is the subject of the pleadings.

Rule 5.71 offers a procedure for withdrawing from a case in which the lawyer has appeared as attorney of record and the client has not signed a substitution of attorney form.

The new forms are available at the California courts' Web site, www.courtinfo.ca.gov. Further information on the rules and forms is available from Hough at 415-865-7668. For information about the risk management materials, e-mail chris.zupanovich@calbar.ca.gov.

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