Amended Rules 11, 13, and 137 create business opportunities for lawyers by making it easier to represent clients for part, but not all, of a lawsuit or transaction.
The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted procedures for lawyers engaging in limited-scope representation on behalf of clients who choose not to, or can't afford to, hire legal counsel for all aspects of a case.
Effective July 1, amended Rules 11, 13, and 137 allow lawyers to file "limited scope" appearances and represent clients for part, but not all, of a civil lawsuit or transaction.
The new rules also address "ghost-writing" by lawyers who assist clients in drafting or reviewing documents without actually signing the document or appearing in court.
"These rules will empower lawyers in representing a greater number of paying clients who only want to pay for particular parts of a project," said ISBA immediate past President John E. Thies. "That makes legal services more readily available to clients, and that's a good thing for the administration of justice."
Thies, who co-chaired a joint task force on limited-scope representation with the ISBA, Chicago Bar Association, and Illinois Judges Association, said a majority of lawyers enjoy doing pro bono work, but many worry about cases that could drag on indefinitely without pay.
"Now they can file a notice of limited-scope representation, and it's clear to the court and the parties the exact extent to which that lawyer will be, and will not be, involved in the case," Thies said.
Limited appearances, ghostwriting
Revised Rule 13 allows an attorney to make a limited-scope appearance on behalf of a party in any civil proceeding when the attorney and client have entered into a written agreement expressly setting forth the limitations of the representation.
The attorney must file and serve upon all parties a "Notice of Limited Scope Appearance," identifying each aspect of the proceedings to be handled by the lawyer. The rule then allows the attorney to exit the case either by filing a motion for withdrawal or a self-executing notice of withdrawal.
The court must grant a motion for withdrawal unless the represented party objects on the ground that the attorney has not completed the representation. Or, if an attorney files a "Notice of Withdrawal of Limited Scope Appearance" and serves it on all parties and the presiding judge, the withdrawal will automatically take effect if no written objection is filed by the client within 21 days.
Amended Rule 11 provides that when a lawyer files a limited-scope appearance, service of documents shall be made on both the attorney and the client until the attorney withdraws from the case.
Rule 137(e), the new "ghost-writing" rule, expressly permits a lawyer to "assist a self-represented person in drafting or reviewing a pleading, motion or other paper without making a general or limited scope appearance." The self-represented client shall sign the document to be filed in court, and the limited-scope attorney may rely on the client's representation of the facts of the case "without further investigation by the attorney," unless the attorney knows that the representations are false.
Making lawyers more accessible
Champaign-based sole practitioner John T. Phipps, who chairs the ISBA Senior Lawyers Section Council and is a member of the General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Section, said limited-scope representation can benefit clients and lawyers in several real-world ways.
For example, Phipps had a past client who came to him in need of filing a small-claims case that wasn't worth enough to justify hiring Phipps to handle in its entirety.
"I showed her exactly how to set up the case and draft the small-claims complaint, but I didn't actually handle the case for her," Phipps said. "It took about half an hour and I charged her 100 bucks - she was very happy with me and she won her case."
Phipps said he has also assisted clients in drafting petitions for uncontested divorces, without actually getting involved in numerous consultations and court appearances that generally are required in such a case.
"There are so many unmet legal needs that we have to do things to make lawyers accessible and affordable - that's what the limited engagement does," Phipps said.