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Getting Help with Limited Legal Services
If you have concerns about the cost of legal representation, you may be able to find a lawyer to handle only some parts of your case to make representation more affordable. This is called limited scope representation. Find out if it is right for you.

What is Limited Scope Representation?
If you do not qualify for free legal help, you may be able to hire a lawyer to give you advice or handle only a part of your case through “limited scope representation.”

Limited scope representation usually means:

  • You handle most of your case yourself. You want to represent yourself and handle your legal issue mostly on your own. You can understand basic legal terms and communicate well.
  • You hire a lawyer for only part of it. You find a lawyer who is willing to take on only some part of your case.  For example, you hire a lawyer to do a specific task that would be hard to do on your own.

You also could hire a lawyer for limited tasks at first, and later, you could hire the lawyer to handle other tasks or your whole case.

In limited scope representation, a lawyer may help you:

  • Know what to expect in your case
  • Review your document before you file it with the court
  • Get ready to appear in court
  • Review a settlement someone offered you
  • Represent you in mediation
  • Fill out a complex financial document
  • Gather documents
  • Comply with all proper legal procedures in the case like service of documents

Another way to think of limited scope representation is “a la carte” or unbundled legal services.

How Can it Help?
Hiring a lawyer for limited scope representation may help you:

  • Save money. It usually costs less to hire a lawyer for limited tasks than for your whole case. Also, a lawyer may help you better understand your case and what you could or could not handle yourself.
  • Save time. A lawyer who specializes in your legal issue usually can perform a task much faster than you could on your own. This may help you avoid delays in your case.
  • Avoid mistakes. A lawyer can help you understand complex legal issues and avoid problems you could not predict on your own.
  • Learn what you don’t know. A lawyer may give you advice on matters you may not be aware of that can affect your case.

For limited scope representation to work, you usually must be able to:

  • Divide your case into parts. Think about whether you can separate your case into different tasks. Are there different forms you must fill out? Will you need to go to court?
  • Handle some parts yourself. Be realistic about what you can do yourself. Think about whether you understand basic legal terms and if you could follow a lawyer’s instructions. Also consider if you have the time to handle some parts yourself.
  • Prepare for your case. A lawyer can help you, but in general, you should be prepared to speak well on your own behalf. You may need to represent yourself at a hearing or communicate clearly in writing. Usually, you need access to a computer and the internet to complete legal documents and file them with the court.

What Situations Work Best?
Limited scope representation works best in simple legal matters. Below are examples of how limited scope representation may help you in different cases.

Type of Case What a Lawyer May be Able to Do
Landlord/Tenant Cases
  • Represent you in an eviction hearing. You have a one-time hearing about your landlord trying to evict you. You hire a lawyer to represent you for that hearing.
  • Help get your landlord to make repairs. You want to force your landlord to make repairs. You hire a lawyer to negotiate with your landlord or review your rent escrow application before you file it.
Wills & Probate Cases
  • Prepare a simple will. You have a small estate, and you hire a lawyer to prepare a simple will for you. Or you do not have a will, but you hire a lawyer to prepare a Transfer on Death for your home.
  • Apply to avoid probate court. A family member died with a small estate, and you want to transfer the assets without going to probate court. You hire a lawyer to help you apply for summary release from administration.
  • Prepare advance directives. You want a legal document to explain what should happen if you are sick and unable to speak for yourself. you hire a lawyer to prepare advance directives for you.
  • Review paperwork to change your name. You want to change your name legally. You hire a lawyer to review your forms before you file them in court.
Kinship Care
  • Prepare a Grandparent Power of Attorney. You are taking care of your grandchild full-time. You hire a lawyer to prepare a form called a Grandparent Power of Attorney so you can make decisions about the child.
  • Prepare a Grandparent Caretaker Affidavit. You are caring for a grandchild full time and cannot reach the child’s parents. You hire a lawyer to prepare a Caretaker Authorization Affidavit for you.
Divorce or Custody Cases
  • Review divorce paperwork. You get the paperwork ready to file for divorce, and through limited scope representation, you hire a lawyer to review the paperwork before you file it with the court.
  • Review your dissolution agreement. You and your spouse fill out all the forms you need to get a dissolution of marriage. You hire a lawyer to review your forms before you file them with the court.
  • Review a parenting plan. You and your child’s other parent write a plan to share custody of your child. You hire a lawyer to review your shared parenting or parenting plan before you file it with the court.
  • Represent you in a child support hearing. You have a one-time hearing before a child support enforcement agency. You hire a lawyer to represent you at that hearing.
  • Prepare a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). You are getting a divorce and handling the case yourself. You hire a lawyer to prepare the QDRO part of your divorce.
  • Apply to change custody. You have a custody agreement in place, but your situation changes. You hire a lawyer to file a motion to change custody.
Protection Orders
  • Prepare or review paperwork. You must go to the clerk of court’s office in-person to file your protection order form. A lawyer can help prepare or review your form.
  • Identify resources. Some courts have victim advocates, domestic violence centers, or other designated resources for victims.
  • Prepare you for a hearing. The court will conduct an ex parte hearing on the day you file your protection order form. You (and your lawyer if you have one) will attend and the judge will decide if you need an emergency “ex parte” protection order that starts immediately.
State Federal Administrative Agency Proceedings
  • Prepare you or represent you in a hearing. A lawyer can represent you or help you know what to expect in a non-court administrative hearing on matters such as Social Security, unemployment, worker’s compensation, and licensing issue.
Small Claims Court
  • Consultation. You may file a case in small claims court if you are seeking money damages of $6,000 or less. A lawyer can provide legal advice and what to expect when you go to court.

Limited scope representation can also be helpful in mediation, or solving legal problems outside of the courtroom. For example, a lawyer may help you:

  • Review a settlement agreement. Someone offers you a settlement. You hire a lawyer to review its terms before you decide whether or not to accept the agreement.
  • Work with your mortgage lender. You are at risk of losing your home to foreclosure. You hire a lawyer to negotiate with your mortgage lender to find options to save your home.

Each case is different. Whether your case would benefit from limited scope representation depends on the facts of your situation.

Questions to ask a Lawyer
Not all lawyers offer limited scope representation.  You may have to search to find a lawyer who does.

In your research, ask questions such as:

  • Do you offer limited scope representation? Ask about cases the lawyer has handled in the past.
  • Do you have experience with cases like mine? It can be helpful to find a lawyer who has a history with cases like yours.
  • Is my case a good fit? Limited scope representation does not work in all cases or in all courts.
  • Who will do what? It is important to have a clear understanding of what the lawyer will do and what you will need to do yourself. The Akron Bar Association has a sample checklist of responsibilities you can use to help.
  • What timelines and deadlines should I know? A lawyer can help you understand the general timeline and deadlines in your case.
  • How should I handle a problem? Find out if you can contact the lawyer in an emergency and how much it could cost.
  • How much will this cost? Ask how much the lawyer charges for this kind of limited scope representation and when and how you would pay. Ask what other fees may come up, like court costs, filing fees or copying costs. Also ask how much it would cost the lawyer to handle your whole case (or full scope representation).

Agreements for Limited Scope Representation
Once you find a lawyer, it’s important for both of you to have a clear understanding of how limited scope representation will work in your case. You can use the Akron Bar Association’s sample Attorney/Client Checklist to help you.

In general, you should:

  • Ask for a written retainer agreement. Ask for a “written retainer” – or an agreement that explains what the lawyer will do and how much you will pay. A written agreement can help prevent misunderstandings and make sure you understand what each of you will be responsible for handling.
  • Get cost details. How much you will pay for limited scope representation can vary depending on your region, the type of case you have and the experience of the lawyer. Ask detailed questions about all costs to help avoid surprises.
  • Ask about legal malpractice insurance. You can ask if the lawyer has malpractice insurance. Lawyers must tell you whether or not they carry it.

Other Ways to Get Legal Help
It's always useful to have a lawyer — and sometimes you really need one.

If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may have other ways to get help. Other options for legal help include:

  • Legal aid. Legal aids are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help to low-income people. When you contact legal aid they will ask you some questions about yourself and your problem. Then they will let you know if they are able to help or if they can connect you with a pro bono lawyer.
  • Ohio Legal Help. Ohio Legal Help provides legal information and forms you can fill out for free and file yourself.
  • Lawyer referral services. You may be able to find a lawyer who will offer you an initial consultation for a set fee. Some bar associations offer a modest means program to handle simpler cases for a reduced fee.

Learn more about finding a lawyer.

Limited Scope Representation

Contact Information

Children & Families Section
Court Services
Supreme Court of Ohio
65 South Front Street, 6th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215-3431

David Edelblute

Policy Counsel:
Kyana Pierson, Esq.

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