What Are Limited Scope Services?
Legal services are “limited scope” or “unbundled” when you hire a family lawyer to complete specific tasks, while you take responsibility for handling the rest of your legal problem.
Unbundling (also called “limited scope retainer” or “limited scope services”) means that you work with your lawyer to break down your legal matter into a list of discrete tasks and carefully divide those tasks between you.
Examples of limited scope legal services in family matters include:
- The initial consultation meeting
- Drafting court documents
- Providing legal advice regarding the substantive legal issues
- Appearing in court for one event or appearing with a client at a mediation session
- Legal coaching on process, strategy, negotiation or participation in court
- Providing independent legal advice on a proposed settlement
- Drafting an agreement
Using limited scope legal services, the client is buying only those legal services that they request. The client maintains responsibility for his or her case, subject to what has been agreed that the lawyer will provide. With a traditional retainer, the lawyer generally assumes responsibility for the matter and the client participates as needed.
Expert Assistance: you get the expert help you need, when you need it, to help you get to a resolution of your family law dispute.
Affordability: by completing some tasks yourself, the costs are usually lower than in a full-representation model. You also remain in control of your legal expenses.
Flexibility: many lawyers providing limited scope legal services offer approaches to suit your unique needs. For example: remote services, technology tools, various pricing options (flat fees, subscriptions or hourly).
Autonomy: you work with your limited scope services lawyer to identify what needs to be done and who is the best person for each task. You remain in control of handling your legal problem, but you still have the expert assistance you value.
More affordable legal fees can increase access to justice, especially if you do not have access to free or subsidized legal services from Legal Aid Ontario
In some circumstances, clients can achieve greater predictability by negotiating fixed fees or other non-hourly billing methods that will enable them to know in advance what it will cost.
Litigants can be better prepared for court attendances which facilitates the likelihood of progress being made and reduces unnecessary delay and cost.
Clients with limited scope services retainers have increased participation in the dispute resolution process, which can lead to greater process satisfaction.
Use of limited scope services can facilitate informed settlements.
Using limited scope legal services can provide families with the kind of assistance that is tailored to meet their needs and budgets.
This website includes a roster of lawyers who will provide limited scope family law services in communities across Ontario (with more lawyers joining each month).
Read the profile of each lawyer in your community. If there is no lawyer close by, consider using technology to get the help you need.
While it is always advisable to use a written retainer letter, it is essential for limited scope retainer legal services. In order to avoid confusion and future concerns and complaints, both the lawyer and client must be very clear about the scope of the services to be provided by the lawyer. This includes:
- what the lawyer will do;
- what the lawyer will NOT do; and
- what the client will do.
A sample retainer has been developed to support the use of limited scope legal services for family law disputes which is available here.
This retainer can be modified by you and the lawyer to meet your particular circumstances.
No. Unbundling may not be the best option for everyone or every type of problem. Unbundling means breaking up a matter into a list of tasks or activities and allocating them between you and your unbundled lawyer. You are, in effect, self-representing, except to the extent that you have agreed to responsibilities that the lawyer will take on.
For example, limited scope legal services may not be appropriate for situations of urgency when there is not enough time for the lawyer to properly prepare.
Unless it is clear from the lawyer’s profile or website, ask how much experience the lawyer has doing family law and providing limited scope legal services to families.
Ask to see a draft of the retainer agreement that the lawyer uses for limited scope services.
Explain to your lawyer what role(s) you want to play and what activities/tasks you want to do. Identify those activities/tasks that you do not want to do. Seek your lawyer’s advice about how best to allocate tasks between you.
Make sure the retainer records your agreement regarding how tasks will be allocated.
Ask for information about how the lawyer’s fees will be calculated and paid.
- Ask whether a flat fee or pay as you go approach is available.
- If the lawyer uses hourly billing, ask about the rate for the lawyer and anyone else at the firm who will be involved in your matter.
- Ask about the cost of expenses/disbursements that you will be responsible for. Discuss what kind of expenses are likely, and what role you will have in approving such expenses in advance.
- Ask whether the lawyer’s services can be provided using technology (to save time and effort for both of you). Consider using phone, email, webconferencing or shared platforms if they are available.
Don’t assume the additional work will be done. Discuss your needs with your lawyer and, if the lawyer agrees to do additional work, amend the retainer agreement or create a new one.
Your changes to the retainer need to include a careful description of the additional tasks and who will perform them.
There is no rule that requires you to disclose that you have received help from a limited scope services lawyer. However, unbundling is becoming very common and, in some situations, it may assist the court to know that you have received assistance.
For several kinds of court attendances, it may be helpful for you to arrange to have telephone access to the lawyer while you are in court. For example, you may want to receive updated legal advice from the lawyer about settlement options that are being proposed.