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Note: This page is provided to Oklahoma Bar Association members by the OBA. Members of the public may find this What are limited scope services? page more useful (and shorter).

What are limited scope services?

Limited scope services are “a method of legal services delivery whereby a client hires an attorney to assist with specific elements or tasks…” For example, legal advice, document review or document preparation, coaching negotiations, and/or limited appearances in court are all tasks that may be performed by the attorney. The client and attorney agree on the specific discrete tasks to be performed by each.

Depending on the nature of the involvement, the attorney may or may not enter an appearance with the court. The client represents himself/herself in all other aspects of the case.”1 Forrest Mosten, known as the founder of legal scope services, describes limited scope services as “a consumer-oriented way of giving the client more control at lower costs and with no loss of quality of services in a variety of ways.” Put another way, in accordance with Oklahoma Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c), the client may select those services that he/she needs the attorney to perform and can agree, after consulting with the attorney, to the attorney providing only those services and not any additional representation. Normally the lawyer will outline to the client in writing what the client’s responsibilities are, so there is no confusion. These services are also sometimes referred to as unbundled legal services.

Limited scope services are not appropriate in all circumstances or for all clients and attorneys. Comment 7 to Oklahoma Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2 provides guidance on when limited scope services may appropriately meet the needs of a client. “If, … a client's objective is limited to securing general information about the law the client needs in order to handle a common and typically uncomplicated legal problem, the lawyer and client may agree that the lawyer's services will be limited to a brief telephone consultation. Such a limitation, however, would not be reasonable if the time allotted was not sufficient to yield advice upon which the client could rely.” As a result, if the issues involved in a case are complicated or if a proposed limitation of scope is likely to leave the prospective client in a worse situation, limited scope representation may not be appropriate.

In June 2017, the Oklahoma Supreme Court adopted District Court Rule 33, which sets forth the procedure for attorneys to use when drafting pleadings or other documents for self-represented litigants to present to a district court, without the lawyer entering an appearance. The rule requires attorneys to disclose the drafting assistance by indicating “their name, address, bar number, telephone number, other contact information and, optionally, a signature“ along with a statement that the attorney is not appearing as the counsel of record.

A lawyer might assist a client by drafting pleadings to be filed with the court, including final orders or decrees. But a lawyer also might help prepare other types of documents, such as a summary totaling all invoices for damages in a small claims case. Even though this type of document might not be filed with the court clerk, if it might be presented to the judge as an aid, the lawyer should follow the dictates of District Court Rule 33.

Additional information about limited scope services is available from the following resources:

Jim Calloway, Improving Access to Justice, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog (June 30, 2017).

Jim Calloway, OBA Program on Delivering Limited Scope Services (aka Unbundled Services) Effectively and Safely, Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog (Aug. 10, 2017).

Jim Calloway, Proposed Rule on Limited Scope Representation, 88 Oklahoma Bar Journal, pg. 310, (February 11, 2017).

Blake M. Feamster, Ghostwriting: An Ethical Issue in the Evolution of the Legal Field, Oklahoma Bar Journal -- 87 Oklahoma Bar Journal pg. 2537 (Dec. 17, 2016) (Note that this article was published before the adoption of District Court Rule 33, but suggests a similar approach.)

American Bar Association, Limited Scope Representation

1 UNBUNDLING LEGAL SERVICES: Options for Clients, Courts & Counsel