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Limited Scope Representation in Transactions - Put it in Writing

Limited scope representation has been ethically permissible in Illinois since at least 2010 and probably even before then. Initially conceived to make it easier to serve clients of modest means, it might be more important today as a way to accommodate changing consumer preferences about legal services.

Under Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c), the only express requirements are that any limited scope representation is "reasonable under the circumstances" and that the client give informed consent. For transactional work, no written agreement is expressly required. Nevertheless, as a recent New York ruling shows, it's best to memorialize a limited scope representation in writing.

The case is Genesis Marchant Partners v. Gilbride, Tusa, Last & Spellane, 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 00221 (Jan. 11, 2018). In Genesis, a legal malpractice case, the defendant lawyers were accused of failing to perfect security interests in a number of life insurance policies used as collateral in a loan transaction. The policies were valued at more than $84 million.

The lawyers' defense was that perfecting the security interest was outside the scope of the representation agreed to by the client. The court began its analysis with a clear sign of trouble ahead: "[T]here is no engagement letter that defines the scope of [the lawyers'] representation."

Find out more in ISBA General Counsel Charles J. Northrup's column in the April Illinois Bar Journal.

Posted on April 11, 2018 by Mark S. Mathewson
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