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Keri Middleditch on Limited Scope Representation

By Steve Thorpe

Limited scope representation allows attorneys to provide discrete legal services to clients as a more affordable option to traditional full-service representation. Based on a recommendation of the State Bar of Michigan 21st Century Practice Task Force, a proposal was created by the State Bar’s Workgroup on Unbundling and approved by the State Bar of Michigan Representative Assembly. The rules became effective January 1, 2018, after the Michigan Supreme Court provided clearer direction to attorneys. Keri Middleditch, principal attorney at Middleditch Law Firm PLLC in Birmingham, focuses her practice exclusively on family law matters. She spent seven years as an attorney with several divisions of the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office before entering private practice in 2008 and forming her own firm in 2017. Middleditch is frequently asked to speak on family law at continuing legal education seminars.

Thorpe: Give us a quick definition of Limited Scope Representation.

Middleditch:
Limited scope representation (LSR) became permissible in the State of Michigan, on January 1, 2018. The concept is contemplated by both the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) and the Michigan Court Rules (MCR). LSR allows a licensed attorney and a client to enter into a contract or agreement for legal services for a limited purpose, in the course of an upcoming or ongoing legal action. LSR allows an attorney to assist a client for a limited purpose in the context of a dispute or litigation, rather than the attorney becoming counsel of record for the entire matter.

Thorpe: How does LSR benefit clients and courts?

Middleditch:
Many clients are unable to afford the retainer required for an experienced practitioner to represent them on their legal matter from start to finish. LSR opens the door and allows many people the opportunity to obtain the advice of competent legal counsel, which was otherwise inaccessible because legal representation was cost prohibitive. Litigants when working within their budgetary constraints can focus their financial resources on the most difficult area of the case with their LSR lawyer. Often times, clients feel empowered when armed with the knowledge they learn from their attorney. In many instances the court system and the paperwork that necessarily comes along with litigation can be overwhelming for litigants, but with the help of a LSR attorney a litigant can have all of their documentation in order and know what to expect for their court appearance.

 With such a significant portion of family law matters involving in pro per litigants, the court system also reaps significant benefit from LSR. Litigants who were otherwise unable to afford legal counsel for their entire legal proceeding, are far more likely to have the ability to retain an attorney to ghostwrite documents or advise them on what is necessary to finalize their case or at least move the case positively forward. Because of LSR, many litigants appear before the court prepared and having filed the appropriate paperwork, rather than seeking the advice of the judge or court staff and left to search for forms in the law library. Prepared litigants take less precious time away from already full court dockets.

Thorpe: Pitfalls of LSR to attorneys?

Middleditch:
It is incumbent upon the lawyer, to clearly delineate in the contract for legal services for LSR, what the lawyer is responsible for and what the lawyer is not responsible for during the course of the representation. The contract should also indicate what the client is responsible for during the course of the legal representation. The litigant is far more involved when the lawyer is retained in this capacity and as a result the lawyer does not have as much control as they might otherwise have. This is especially true when it comes to court appearances and interaction with the court and even opposing counsel. There is also a risk of boundaries getting muddied by the client in front of the court, with opposing counsel and even the LSR attorney. The lawyer must always be mindful of the boundaries agreed upon on the engagement agreement and adhere to them or have the client sign a new contract for full representation.

Thorpe: Does LSR work in family law cases?

Middleditch:
Yes, but it is important to note that not all cases are appropriate for LSR and likewise not all clients are appropriate for LSR. LSR may be utilized on matters that have not yet been filed with the court, are already pending before the court or on post judgment matters. The burden falls squarely on the lawyer when interviewing the potential client to ascertain what the client’s needs are and how their needs can best be met.

Thorpe: Could LSR provide more work for law firms?

Middleditch:
The short answer is likely, yes. As I previously mentioned, many people are unable to afford the retainer for an experienced family law practitioner. Family law is not just divorce actions, it also include disputes over property, spousal support, paternity, child support, custody and parenting time matters as well as personal protection orders. Litigants may be interested in having an attorney manage just one aspect of their case. A law firm could have their associates handle some LSR cases and generate revenue for the firm that would have otherwise been unavailable.

Thorpe: The State Bar has a discussion group and a “tool kit” for LSR. Are there any other ways attorneys can educate themselves on the topic?

Middleditch:
Absolutely, first a review of the MRPC and the MCR would be a great place to start. The two sets of rules do not mirror one another, so it is important to review both carefully. In addition the Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) has a video presentation available that discusses much of what was touched upon here but in greater detail along with some additional educational materials and sample engagement agreements.
 

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