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Improving Access to Justice – “Unbundling” Legal Services in Illinois

It is the sad truth that access to justice is more readily available to those who can afford reliable representation.  There are legal aid organizations available to help people who cannot afford to hire an attorney, but often the potential client must earn less than 125% of the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines in order to qualify for legal aid.  Low and moderate income clients are segment of the population that often resorts to representing themselves because they earn too much to qualify for legal aid, and too little to be able to afford hiring an attorney at traditional market rates.

The Illinois Supreme Court, in June 2013, amended its rules so that attorneys can capture this lost segment of the population and improve everyone’s access to justice.  “Limited scope representation” allows attorneys to “unbundle” their legal services in a piecemeal fashion where full legal representation is not necessarily required.  Doing so allows clients to be able to receive legal services on only a portion of a their matter thereby making the legal fees more affordable. The amended rules help clarify the procedures for providing limited scope representation to encourage attorneys to provide such services. Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride stated:

These rules will improve access to Illinois courts for people with limited means… The Rules enable an attorney to represent a client on a limited part of a lawsuit and then withdraw from the case.  The nature of some cases requires full legal representation, but many do not. This will allow lawyers to offer their pro bono services more efficiently, and provide a person the possibility of hiring a lawyer to protect their interests without the burden of paying for complete representation.

Rule 13 now specifically permits attorneys to make a limited scope appearance on behalf of a civil litigant. The attorney must have entered into a written agreement with the client to provide limited scope representation.  The rule also requires attorneys to file a Notice of Limited Scope Appearance that specifically identifies which aspects of the proceeding the attorney is representing the client in.  Attorneys can file more than one Notice of Limited Scope Appearance in a single case and must file a Notice before appearing on any aspect of the proceeding not included in a previous Notice.  The attorney shall withdraw by oral motion or written notice upon completion of the limited representation.  Alternatively, the attorney can also file a Notice of Withdrawal of Limited Scope Representation and must serve it on the client, opposing counsel and other opposing parties, and on the judge presiding over the case.

Supreme Court Rule 11 now requires all documents in a court proceeding to be properly served upon the party and the attorney even during limited representation.  The Committee Comments to Rule 137 clarify that an attorney can assist someone who is pro se in the “drafting of a pleading, motion or other paper, or reviewing a pleading, motion or other paper drafted by a party, without filing a general or limited scope appearance”.  This clarification applies in situations where attorneys are providing legal information such as at a pro bono clinic, or on a legal aid telephone hotline.

These changes to the Supreme Court rules were meant to encourage attorneys to provide representation to people who could not otherwise afford representation.  Limited scope representation not only provides attorneys with the opportunity to contribute to helping people in their community, but can also a potential boon to practices.  People who would otherwise not hire an attorney will more likely consider hiring an attorney that provides unbundled services.  Attorneys will still be able to provide reliable representation and be paid for their time, where otherwise the client might not be able to get the help he or she needs.

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