Limited scope legal services (also called unbundling, limited scope retainer, limited scope representation, a la carte legal services, discrete task representation, etc.) is an approach to delivering legal services in which the lawyer and client break down the client’s legal matter into a list of discrete tasks and the lawyer provides legal services for only a portion of those tasks.
Limited scope legal service may also involve legal coaching where a lawyer helps the client with strategies and tools to present their case as effectively as possible. Within a limited scope model, the client accepts responsibility for performing all other tasks as agreed. This can help minimize legal costs and self-representation within the legal system but limited scope legal services may not be right for every person or every case.
Lawyers provide limited legal services in many contexts such as giving independent legal advice, providing a second opinion on a legal issue, providing initial consultations, and advising in the role of duty counsel. Some examples of limited scope legal services include:
Lawyers providing limited scope legal services have the same duties of competence and ethical conduct as those who provide full-representation services.
The Law Society of Saskatchewan Code of Conduct provides guidance to lawyers delivering limited scope legal services.
Sub-section 1.1-1 defines limited scope retainer – “means the provision of legal services for part, but not all, of a client’s legal matter by agreement with the client”.
Sub-section 3.1-2 reinforces that a lawyer must perform all legal services undertaken on a client’s behalf to the standard of a competent lawyer. Commentary 7A for this rule requires a lawyer to consider whether to provide legal services under a limited scope retainer it is possible to render those services in a competent manner.
Sub-section 3.2-1A indicates that before undertaking a limited scope retainer a lawyer must advise the client about the nature, extent and scope of the services that the lawyer can provide and must confirm in writing to the client as soon as practicable what services will be provided.
Read more: Model Retainer Agreement
Related commentary notes that if the limited services being provided include an appearance before a tribunal, care must be taken not to mislead the tribunal as to the scope of the retainer. This may require disclosure of the limited nature of the retainer and all applicable rules of the tribunal should be adhered to. A tribunal is defined as “a court, board, arbitrator, mediator, administrative agency or other body that resolves disputes”.
Sub-section 7.2-6A addresses communication on a limited scope file and details responsibility on lawyers to communicate in writing the extent of their involvement in a legal matter for which they expect to be contacted. Commentary reinforces that unless specifically advised, an opposing lawyer can deal directly with the client. It is important to detail the nature of the retainer and its scope in writing to opposing counsel.
There are a number of resources available to help lawyers deliver limited scope legal services effectively: