Ten Things To Know About Freelance Law: #4 Unbundled Legal Services

In this post, I discuss how freelance law is an analog to unbundled legal services or limited scope representation.  

In Colorado, a lawyer and client may agree to limit the scope of services or objectives of the representation the lawyer provides to the client.  C.R.P.C. 1.2(c).  The limitation on either the scope of services or objectives must be reasonable and the client must give informed consent.  Id.  This arrangement between lawyer and client is referred to as limited scope representation, unbundled legal services, or simply ‘unbundling.’ 

The traditional “full bundle” of legal representation consists of “gathering facts, advising the client, discovering the facts of the opposing party, performing legal research, drafting correspondence and documents, negotiating, and representing the client in court.”  Colorado Bar Association, Formal Opinion 101, Unbundling/Limited Scope Representation, New Opinion Approved May 21, 2016.  In contrast to the full bundle of services, “limited scope representation takes four forms: (1) providing limited litigation assistance to self-represented litigants in court cases; (2) ghostwriting pleadings or briefs for self-represented litigants; (3) providing non-litigation advice to self-represented litigants; and (4) transactional assistance.”  Id.

Several rules provide authority for limited scope representation.  Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c) is the main authority for limiting the scope or objectives of the representation.  The Rules of Civil Procedure additionally deal with limited scope representation.  A lawyer may provide unbundled legal services to a pro se party by filing a notice of limited appearance for specified proceedings and may file a notice of completion of limited appearance, which terminates the lawyer’s appearance without further action by the lawyer or the court.  C.R.C.P. 121 §1-1(5).  Lawyers may ‘ghostwrite’ pleadings for a pro se party subject to certain specific limitations.  C.R.C.P. 11(b).

The United States District Court for the District of Colorado, however, specifically excludes Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c) from the standards of professional responsibility in federal district court in Colorado.  D.C.COLO.LAttyR 2(b)(1).  The District of Colorado permits limited scope representation only upon a court order that defines the scope of the representation.  D.C.COLO.LAttyR 5(a)(2).

Freelance law mirrors unbundled legal services in several respects.  As with freelance lawyers, all of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct apply to a lawyer providing unbundled legal services, regardless of the limited scope or temporary duration of the representation.  Colorado Bar Association, Formal Opinion 101.

With unbundled legal services, the client and lawyer pick and choose the services that the lawyer will provide from the traditional full bundle of representation.  Freelance law operates in much the same way—it is ‘a la carte representation.’  The freelance lawyer essentially provides unbundled legal services to the client.  The main difference between freelance law and unbundled legal services is that in freelance law, there is an intermediary between the freelance lawyer and the client—the hiring lawyer.  The hiring lawyer can retain the freelance lawyer for very limited legal services, such as drafting one pleading or researching and analyzing one issue. 

As with unbundled legal services, the freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer should carefully define the scope of the representation and services that the freelance lawyer will provide.  Id.  A well-drafted fee agreement will note the specific tasks that the freelance lawyer will undertake.   With both unbundled legal services and freelance legal services, it is crucial that all of the parties understand and communicate who is responsible undertaking certain actions, meeting deadlines, ensuring filing, and arranging service.  When a freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer work together, they should take care to ensure that these responsibilities clearly delineated in writing.  I will discuss fee agreements in the freelance legal services context in more detail in another post. 

Freelance lawyers, like lawyers who provide unbundled legal services, must ensure that they provide competent representation and should ensure that the agreement with the client does not place limitations that would impair this obligation.  “For example, a lawyer should not agree to limit the time allotted to the client’s case such that the lawyer could not provide sufficient advice on which the client could rely.”  Id.

Freelance legal services offers many of the benefits of unbundled legal services, including flexibility and reduced cost to the client.  Id.

In the next post, I will discuss when the hiring lawyer must disclose the use of a freelance lawyer to their client.

 

Of course, rules and ethical obligations may vary by jurisdiction, and this post does not constitute legal advice.