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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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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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What’s Stopping You?

After a blog post by Richard Zorza commented on Dr. Julie MacFarlane’s research, I read her full post.  Dr. MacFarlane summarizes her research into the lack of lawyers offering “unbundled” services (or what we call here “Limited Scope Representation,” based on the terminology in ABA Model Rule 1.2(c)).

Nutshell:  demand for these limited services far outstrips the supply of lawyers who offer them.  Surprise: many who sought LSR services did so not because of money, but out of frustration with prior representation or lack of trust in an open budget form of assistance. (See Part 2 of MarFarlane’s research report at page 38.)

Nutshell 2:  the self-imposed and vigorously-defended traditional culture of legal practice is the obstacle, not rules, liability risk, lack of prospective clients or judicial obstruction.

So my question to those of you who have not already tried this form of lawyering is: What is stopping YOU?

By now there are ample reports, articles, blog posts, bar journal editorials, court rulings, CLE courses and other materials that show how and when LSR services can be appropriately offered.  My book alone covers most of those topics (and for less than $10!), but there are others available as well.

Do you have an answer?  Is it an honest obstacle, or a self-imposed limitation?  Think about it and then ask yourself again:  what’s holding me back?

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Cleaning Up Behind Yourself

Your mother or father probably drilled it into your brain.  Your spouse or roommate probably reminded you (one way or another) why it is a good practice.  But do you do it in cyberspace?

I am talking about cleaning up after your cyberself.  How’s that MySpace page doing?  Your first Facebook page?  Got any old social media accounts out there or old websites and blogs?  You might find Lauren Goode’s blog post from last month’s “All Things D” very useful.

In A Handy Guide to Deleting Digital Accounts, Goode give specific instructions on deleting unwanted accounts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, AOL and Google+.  Another option is a tool like Delete Your Account, where you type in the service you from which you want to delete an account, and it presents the instructions for that account.  (E.g., search for “MySpace” and you get instructions for deleting accounts from MySpace.)  (If you don’t remember where you left your digital self, try Bing, Google or seeing a neurologist…)

Make sure you aren’t confusing your own prospective clients with old, out-dated and inaccurate digital accounts.  If you don’t check those profiles at least every month, you should consider deleting them.  You never know how long an unflattering comment might be there, harming your reputation because you were nonresponsive.

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Setting Expectations

One of the biggest opportunities when exploring LSR services with a prospective client is also one of the most important risk management tasks:  making sure the lawyer and client agree on the exact scope of services the lawyer will provide.

Examples of ways to document this are available in my book and other places, so I won’t cover that now.  My point today focuses on the agreement between lawyer and client.

In their rush to obtain legal assistance, clients often practice “selective disclosure” and suffer from “selective listening.” Likewise, lawyers who haven’t practiced very long in a subject area may be overly eager and skimp on fundamental interview techniques.

Just like “tie goes to the runner” in baseball, disputed terms will be construed from the client’s perspective without a clear writing to remove doubt. Because LSR is relatively new to many, the agreement needs to cover as many tasks the lawyer won’t do for the quoted fee as what the lawyer will. The list of tasks that the client must handle or get elsewhere is both a chance to “up sell” as well as a checklist for the client who may not understand the breadth of the matter for which you have undertaken a small part.

Make sure your agreement makes the most of the “opportunity” by adding your fee menu to the back, for example. But ensure you have clearly delineated respective roles so there is no reasonable dispute over what the LSR fee has purchased.

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Something old, something new

In an article in the October 2013 issue of the ABA Journal, “Going Old School,” one lawyer is profiled for her success using the “old fashioned” printed Yellow Pages.

In today’s era of social media mania, it is easy to overlook the tried and true. One benefit of a YP print ad is that you can get more information out that doesn’t fit into a tweet or audio spot.

Coupled with appropriate online information, a print ad component may make sense for your LSR practice. Be careful about publishing menu pricing,however, unless you have expiration dates on the numbers.

And always know and follow the advertising rules in your state.

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