Limited Scope Retainers – A Cost-Effective Alternative to Full Representation

Written By Allison R. McAlpine

The Problem

Traditionally, a client retained a lawyer to handle every aspect of their file from beginning to end. This is the best way to be represented by a lawyer.  However, not everyone can afford this, which has resulted in many people representing themselves in Court or preparing unenforceable separation agreements.

The Solution

A solution to this problem is the “limited-scope retainer” or “LSR” which is an alternative to full-representation by a lawyer. A LSR is a service in which the client retains the lawyer to handle only part of a case.  It’s an “a la carte” type of service where the client and lawyer agree which aspect(s) the lawyer is going to assist with and which aspects the client is going to handle on his/her own.

Examples of this are as follows:

  1. The lawyer prepares one or more court documents for the client;
  2. The lawyer attends one or more court appearances for the client;
  3. The lawyer provides independent legal advice on a proposed settlement or on any issue in the case;
  4. The lawyer acts as an out of court litigation coach in which the client handles his/her file but keeps the lawyer on retainer to provide ongoing advice to the client when the client needs it (lawyer in the background but doesn’t go to Court or prepare documents);
  5. The lawyer acts as a coach for a client negotiating a separation agreement. The lawyer just provides advice, while the client negotiates the separation agreement directly. The lawyer should be the one to draft the Separation Agreement though, otherwise the client risks an unenforceable separation agreement; and
  6. The lawyer is retained to write one or more letters on behalf of the client.

There are more examples, but you get the idea. The file’s management remains with the client, but the client decides what specific service(s) to retain the lawyer for.  The advantage is reduced legal fees for a client and they can stay within a defined budget.  The disadvantage is that the law is complicated and it may or may not be difficult for the client to manage his/her case and represent themselves in the rest of the process.

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