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How to Know if You Should Offer A La Carte Legal Services

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 05, 2012 6:03 AM

In a world of shrinking wallets, some attorneys have started offering a-la-carte legal services. Also known as limited scope representation, it can help clients get manageable legal fees.

The ABA's new book on the topic explains the concept of limited scope representation in an online guide. In its online guide, the Section of Litigation has laid out some basic guidelines on limited scope representation in litigation matters. 

The term "a-la-carte legal services" comes from clients ordering their legal services off a menu, instead of taking the full package of traditionally offered services.

But be warned: you should proceed with an a-la-carte plan with caution.

First off, lawyers offering a-la-carte legal services need to be aware of ethical pitfalls. Several states have adopted the rule that limited scope representation is appropriate only if the assistance is "reasonable under the circumstances." Here are some tips to ensure that your a-la-carte legal services are "reasonable":

Evaluate your client. You need to make sure that your client has enough sophistication and understanding (not to mention willingness) to handle some of the work on their own. Only you will have a full grasp of what that work could be. If you don't feel like the client's up to the additional responsibilities, you need to step back and decline the limited scope representation.

Is pro se common on the matter? If the legal issue is one in which pro-se representation is fairly common, then limited scope may be appropriate. If you're dealing with a case where the issues are complex, either substantively or procedurally, then it might not be wise to limit the scope of your representation.

Availability of self-help services. If your jurisdiction is one that offers some self-help services to potential litigants, then the need for full legal services can be reduced.

The ABA is releasing a book shortly on a-la-carte legal services. The book, titled "Limited Scope Legal Services: Unbundling and the Self-Help Client" will be available at the ABA online bookstore.

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