Category Archives: Ethics

Keep it Simple





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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Great Limited Scope Primer and Online CLE (and it’s FREE!)

The Practising Law Institute has a reputation for providing timely, high-quality online CLEs.  Sue Talia has a reputation for her no-nonsense nuts and bolts guidance in setting up a Limited Scope Practice.  You can get both for the price of none in this webinar:  Expanding Your Practice Using Limited Scope Representation 2012.

(Full disclosure:  Ms. Talia does give a favorable comment about my book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, which she previewed and helped edit.  But I liked her 2009 webinar which was very similar and would have urged you to see the new one anyway.)

So go get some free CLE while you hear another perspective about the opportunities, risks and rewards of offering LSR to your law practice.  And did I mention that it is FREE???

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“Reasonable Under the Circumstances”

In Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice:  How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, I lay out numerous reasons why you should consider limited scope representation (also known as “unbundling” or “unbundled legal services”), walk you through the ethical and financial considerations involved in limited scope practice (and most others), and give you plenty of practical advice on setting up, promoting (aka “advertising”) and running a limited scope representation practice.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter entitled “Saftey First: 6 Ways to Protect Yourself:” 

We start with the recognition that the agreement to hire a lawyer—or for a lawyer to perform legal services—is a contract.   The elements of a valid contract, therefore, must be present.  The limitation on the scope of a lawyer’s duties and responsibilities must thus be by agreement with the client.  The ABA’s position is that the options are very broad as to how much the scope of services can be restricted.  The restriction can apply to the type of assistance, the number of matters, the duration of assistance and the terms under which the lawyer is available for other services or an extension of the agreement.[1]  It is essential that the client agree to the limited scope of your services.

The limitation must also be reasonable.  Reasonableness is subjective and based on the specific situation.  Just because your limited scope representation is normally reasonable does not mean it is reasonable in all situations.  You will need to make sure the services are appropriate for that client in that specific situation on that particular day.  Every time.

[1] Comment 7, ABA Model Rule 1.2.

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What Model Rules Apply to LSR?

The rule that governs the general concept of limiting the scope of representation is Model Rule 1.2(c).[1]

The rule language is important.  You want to do everything within reason to avoid disputes and problems with the client—and thereby contain as much as possible the risk you expose yourself to in every representation—so make sure you understand this rule and the version adopted in your state.  Read the rule, the comments and any other rules that are referenced in either the rule or comments in your jurisdiction.

Paragraph (c) looks simple enough:  “A lawyer may limit the scope of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.”[2]  There are some important components in that language, however, that, if you do not pay attention, can open you to trouble down the road.  Those terms are “reasonable under the circumstances” and “the client gives informed consent.”

In the book, Start and Grow Your Limited Scope Practice: How to Make Money Serving the “Do It Yourself” Client, I wrote an entire chapter on ways to protect yourself both in a general law practice and especially when embarking on a LSR Practice.  The good news is that LSR clients are generally more satisfied than traditional full-scope clients and are thus going to be less inclined to complain or file grievances.  Get the book, follow the strategies, pocket the results. 

You’ll be glad you did!

[1] Although every action taken on behalf of a client is subject to all applicable rules of professional conduct and other law, this discussion is limited only to the ABA Model Rules and Comments, except where noted.

[2] Rule 1.2(c).

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