Expanding Resources for Expanding Access

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The limited scope representation movement is a key part of the effort to bring about equal justice under law via access to the courts. There is now a swelling number of lawyers across the country who offer unbundled assistance tailored to the specific budget and needs of clients who can handle some aspects of their legal matters themselves. This is very different from several decades ago when judges used the “fingerprint rule” to pull any lawyer whose activities could be detected in a client’s matter into full scope representation without consent or concern for getting the lawyer paid.

Periodically, I like to look at the ways state court systems and bar associations are rolling out and updating resources for lawyers who want to offer limited scope representation as a core or secondary part of their for-profit practices.  Below are some materials you may find helpful.

TEXAS

I start with Texas because it is different.  It is one state that has not updated its own disciplinary rules in decades, falling well behind most and clearly behind the ABA.  Even so, Texas has been working hard to improve access to the courts for self-represented litigants as well as partially-represented litigants.  For example, on the Texas Access to Justice Commission’s site, you can find information on free online CLE from active LSR practitioners and judges (http://is.gd/LSRinTX) as well as find out how to schedule a presentation in your area.  One of those lawyers, Matt Probus, gave a presentation to the Dallas Bar Association a few years ago that is posted on their site at http://is.gd/HYXm8w.

MISSOURI

The Missouri Office of State Court Administration has a toolkit posted online intended for judges that has helpful materials.  One chapter, “Limited Scope Representation and Pro Bono Practice,” walks the reader through Missouri’s Supreme Courts Rules on LSR and bridges the gap between traditional, full-scope practice and the limited version, including the encouragement to award attorney’s fees when appropriate, even though the party was only partially represented. See the toolkit here: http://is.gd/LSRinMO.

ILLINOIS

The Illinois State Bar set up a Practice Resource Center online at http://is.gd/LSRinIL.  Those include links to the rules amended in 2013 to clarify that LSR is appropriate in Illinois as well as a number of free resources.

NATIONAL

Finally, you can’t complete your research without a stop at the ABA’s site.  They can’t mention my book there because they sell an $80 book they feel is a competitor (I disagree), but you can get a number of good materials there.  Start with this recent article that gives Sue Talia, the “Queen of LSR in America,” her due, summarizing her February 2015 webinar: http://is.gd/LSRatABA. (And as for that $80 book: you may be able to find it in your local library if you are cost conscious!)

There are other resources out there if you look. I will keep looking as well!

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Who’s Your Prospective LSR Client?

There contemplationare some misconceptions about the people most likely to want limited scope representation or “unbundled” legal services. Are they poor people? Overly frugal middle class? Anti-lawyer?

Probably so. In other words, there is a spectrum of people who are looking for affordable and effective assistance with predictable financial costs. Some have very low incomes but are unable to get help from free civil legal services organizations for various reasons (most commonly, because those programs are sorely underfunded). But at the other end, you have people who have the money, want to accomplish a legal objective, but are turned off by the unpredictable and unexplainably-high nature of traditional full-service legal costs.

Before you launch a limited scope legal services practice or set of services, think about the market you want to reach. That will make a difference on your strategies for marketing, setting up your internal systems, streamlining your production, and developing your practice overall. It is a rare situation where a shotgun approach–trying to be all things LSR to all people–will let you hone your practical delivery and services to keep the effort moving and profitable.

One of the chapters in my book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice (available for download and reading now on any mobile device), is “A 7-Step Plan for Success.”  That chapter lays out a simple guide for making the decisions that build your foundation for a new or re-launched LSR practice. I think you will find it helpful.

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DIY Legal Videos?

Recently, while assessing an appliance problem, I was browsing through some of the countless DIY tutorials on YouTube. Here is an example: YouTube DIY video.Training

What legal guidance could you provide to “DIYers” who may want to handle simple legal matters on their own?  Assuming you comply with your jurisdiction’s advertising and anti-barratry rules, where can you teach others while demonstrating your value as a coach, mentor, adviser and limited scope representative?

There are some web resources out there already doing this for limited types of legal matters, such as TexasCourtHelp.org, which I was fortunate enough to work on. But as the YouTube videos illustrate, you don’t need professional videos to convey simple “how to” instructions.

Think about what you can give away that will help prospective clients turn to you for paid assistance.  Use that as a way to educate, build confidence in your knowledge and capabilities, reduce anxiety about asking for help with a portion of a legal matter, and generally develop your reputation in your community and among your target client market.

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Appliance check-up? Done. Automobile check-up? Done. Legal check-up? Wait, what?

bike tune upLimited Scope Practitioners are creative, problem-solvers who look for ways to divide efforts and help people appropriately participate in addressing their personal civil legal matters. That is the “reactive” and responsive approach, triggered by demand and inquiry. It generally stays within the traditional boundaries of “barratry” and other anti-solicitation laws and rules across the U.S. and in other countries.

While advertising rules have changed over the years, and the American consumer has become less disdainful of lawyers who tastefully advertise, there still seems to be a reluctance on the part of many lawyers to undertake preventive maintenance for past, present and prospective clients. Some use anti-solicitation rules as a defense; others cite “traditional lawyer roles.” I think it is more often a discomfort with advertising legal services other than as passive, responsive, “supply-side” approach such as hanging out one’s shingle and sitting in the office, waiting for the clients to walk in.

There are a lot of shingles out there. There are also a lot of prospective clients who may not even know they need a lawyer. Why not recommend a legal check-up? It is acceptable under all rules of professional responsibility to contact present and former clients to advise them of changes in the law that you think are relevant to them. Start with that list. Send them a “legal check-up” checklist and enclose your LSR fee sheet.

For the rest of the world, try some of these:

  • Post a generic or sample checklist–or, even be tter, a self-driven check-up tuneupsystem–on your website or social media page that stays within your jurisdiction’s advertising rules.
  • Write short descriptions of real situations where a preventive review truly did prevent a larger legal problem (like that maintenance check can catch an engine problem before the car breaks down).
  • Provide examples of how your LSR services can save money with the partnership approach and collaborative solutions available in certain circumstances.

Getting people to do preventive maintenance can be challenging, no matter what type of maintenance it is. Take a page out of the heating & air conditioning, bicycle, piano, automobile, and appliance repair marketing books by developing a reminder to people that a legal check-up is important and, importantly, affordable.

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Using Blogs to Get More Clients

Some of my posts have been about ethical considerations when offering and providing LSR.  Others have focused on ways to (ethically) market both the concept and your services.  I am not a marketing professional but I know someone who is!

Stephen Fairley is a law firm marketing expert and the CEO of the Rainmaker Institute.  His blog, The Rainmaker Blog, is filled with insightful and practical tips and cautions that every lawyer, not just those in the LSR space, can use.

A recent post by Stephen on LinkedIn, however, caught my attention more than most:  Download This Latest Free Report: How Law Firms Use Blogging to Get More Leads.  The report includes conclusions about the correlation between online activity and attracting new clients.

I think you will find a number of very helpful ideas you can adapt to your Limited Scope Representation practice.

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New Practising Law Institute Program January 30!

A new program, “Expanding Your Practice Using Limited Scope Representation 2015,” will be presented live on January 30, 2015.  The star of the show is Sue Talia, a long-time proponent, mentor, and instructor in the practical aspects of providing limited scope representation across the U.S.  This program represents a significant update on the ones produced several years ago.  You don’t want to miss this!  Not only get to hear from the best–it’s FREE!!!

You can register here.

If you can’t attend the live version, they usually post the recorded version later.

Then drop back by and pick up a copy of my ebook on Amazon (or email me about a purchasing PDF version).

Note to teachers:  quantity discounts are available.  Drop me an email.  I will readily discount on a bulk purchase to help get these concepts into the hands of your students!

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The State of Limited Scope Representation Law

The American Bar Association just released an update to its 2005 white paper, “An Analysis of Rules That Enable Lawyers to Serve Self-Represented Litigants.”  This is an important update that indicates “substantial policy shifts among several states” and a document you should review either (a) to confirm you understand your own state’s place on the spectrum, or (b) to help your efforts to improve the applicable rules in your state so Limited Scope Representation can expand.

The appendices are rich with useful material:

Appendix A:  a worksheet to determine rule changes that enable lawyers to serve pro se litigants

Appendix B:  relevant rules of ethics and procedure (including ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct)

Here is the TOC:

Table of Contents
I. Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………1
II. Background ………………………………………………………………………………..1
III. Rules Authorizing Limited Scope Representation …………………………….4
ABA Model Rule 1.2(c) …………………………………………………………………….4
State Rules: Varying Written Consent Requirements ……………………………5
No Written Consent Mandate ……………………………………………………………5
Written Consent Preferred ……………………………………………………………….5
Written Consent Required…………………………………………………………………6
The Conflict Between ABA Model Rules 1.2(c) and 1.1 …………………………7
Reconciling ABA Model Rules 1.2(c) and 1.1 ………………………………………8
IV. Rules Clarifying Communications Between Counsel and Parties ………..10
ABA Model Rules 4.2 and 4.3 ……………………………………………………………10
State Rules Governing Communications ……………………………………………..10
V. Rules Creating Parameters for the Lawyer’s Role in Document Preparation ..12
The Conflict Between Limited Scope Document Preparation and Certification of Pleadings ..12
State Rules of Civil Procedure Governing Certification of Pleadings ………..12
Point 1: Factual Representation vs. Independent Inquiry ……………………….12
Point 2: Notifying the Court ……………………………………………………………….13
Point 3: Appearances as a Result of Signing Pleadings ………………………..16
VI. Rules Governing the Entry of Appearances and Withdrawals in Court ..17
Creating the Limited Appearance ………………………………………………………17
Notice to the Opposing Side ……………………………………………………………..21
Procedures for Withdrawal ……………………………………………………………….23
VII. Excusing Conflicts Checks for Limited Service Programs …………………27
Limited Scope Representation as Legal Information……………………………..27
Limited Scope Representation as Legal Advice …………………………………..28
ABA Model Rule 6.5 …………………………………………………………………………28
State Rules Governing Conflicts ………………………………………………………..29
VII. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………..30

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Why I Wrote The Book

According to tradition, the Spanish philosopher Seneca, who once tutored and advised Nero, is credited with the saying that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

I wrote Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice because I sensed the time was right. After years of teaching lawyers how to deliver “unbundled” or “limited scope” legal assistance properly, I wanted to reach the younger lawyers who may be looking for new ways to use their degrees and training to help people.

Because the Great Recession swelled the ranks of people struggling financially–typically coincident with a sudden need for legal assistance–the demand was far outstripping the supply of lawyers who had creative solutions for the financial aspect of the lawyer-client relationship. About the same time, there was a renewed push for “unbundling” legal services, a concept that was decades old, and more accepting attitudes among bench and ethics committees.  More than ever, the need for legal assistance to everyday people with everyday problems was exceeding the supply of affordable legal services.  Few average Americans need $1,000/hour lawyers and few $1,000/hour lawyers seem to need average Americans as clients.

So recently, when I listened to Dean Royal Furgeson and Associate Dean Ellen Pryor of the new UNT College of Law in Dallas, Texas, I was really excited to hear their vision for a new approach to legal education for a new class of lawyers who will be trained differently and exposed to many aspects of the legal profession that traditional law schools ignore.  At a time when many ask, “why another law school,” Furgeson and Pryor have an answer ready: to fill a gap in the law school education system that the others have ignored: preparing graduates to meet the under-served legal needs of our society in creative ways with both a modernized approach to teaching and fewer obstacles to entry for people who want to serve others.

While the UNT College of Law may not give the “Top 50” law schools a reason to worry about their rankings anytime soon, I have no doubt that those who graduate from its programs will find plenty of opportunity to apply their knowledge and determination to innovatively address the everyday legal challenges that most Americans face in their lives.  Maybe, opportunity is about to encounter prepared graduates and the middle-income families with typical legal needs will then feel a bit more lucky.

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Keep it Simple

 

 


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You have no doubt seen signs like the one above, either inside a pet supply store or at a shopping center.  The message is simple, yet effective.  Though veterinarians do not have to adhere (to my knowledge) to advertising restrictions such as those imposed on lawyers in most states, there is no state in the U.S. that would disallow a similar announcement that “low cost legal assistance” or a “flat fee lawyer” will be at a particular place at a specific time.

You do not have to use terms like “unbundled” or “limited scope services” to meet communication rules.  Keep it simple and not misleading and you will be both effective and ethical.

The ABA Model Rules require that communications relating to a lawyer’s services:

  • are not false or misleading (by statements made or omitted) (Rule 7.1)
  • include the lawyer’s name (Rule 7.2)
  • are not communicated through inappropriate solicitation efforts (Rule 7.3)

You may recall my post last year about lawyers who set up temporary space in a Florida shopping mall to be near their target clients.  So far this year, there appear to be more shoppers out.  Even if you need to obtain an  advertising review (such as in Texas), you should still have time to get the word out for the after-Christmas action.

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Lawyers as Entrepreneurs

It isn’t as antithetical as one might think:  lawyers are generally very creative and many are employed in ways where they frequently provide practical guidance to entrepreneurs and other business people.  My previous post was about recent research indicating that some of the obstacles to an uptake in LSR services are self-imposed.  That “bad” side of conservatism for which the legal profession is too easily lampooned.  (Remember the jokes about how lawyers took so long to embrace technology?)

In that context, it is quite refreshing to see experienced, successful private law firms branching out into creative, entrepreneurial lines of legal services intended to meet the needs of the HUGE under-served pool of prospective clients out there.  One example of that is Negotiated Divorce.  Dig into their website and you will see an approach that blends online access, self-help features and related services for those who need more.

Lawyers are quintessential problem- solvers. You’d think more of them would take on the challenge of solving our legal service delivery problems the way Negotiated Divorce has begun to do.

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