Does My Lawyer Represent Me For All Purposes?
WHAT IS THE “SCOPE” OF THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP?
The “scope of representation” is a term that refers to the matter or matters for which a lawyer represents a client.
The “scope of representation” is established:
- At the time the client hires/retains the lawyer
- At a later time, if the attorney and client agree to extend or change the scope of the relationship
Normally, the scope of the attorney-client relationship is defined in a written retainer agreement (or fee agreement) between the lawyer and the client.
A LAWYER DOES NOT HAVE TO REPRESENT A CLIENT “FOR ALL PURPOSES” – AND USUALLY DOES NOT
While there are rules governing (and preventing) lawyers’ ability to limit their liability to a client, it is absolutely legal to limit the scope of representation–and a lawyer is not legally liable to a client for matters outside the scope of the representation. This is true even if the client loses legal rights, or the ability to file a lawsuit, with regard to matters outside the scope of representation. However, a lawyer may have an obligation to warn the client about legal issues outside the scope of the representation if those issues are reasonably apparent to the lawyer (and if the lawyer is or should be aware of them).
Some areas where the scope of representation is normally limited include:
- Family law cases (limited to the scope of the relevant legal proceedings/case)
- Class actions (limited to the class action, as certified by the relevant court)
- Court-appointed lawyers (limited to the issue or matter for which they were appointed)
- Lawyers hired by insurance companies (limited to issues within the scope of the insurance policy)
- Special programs that provide limited or short-term legal aid, or similarly limited legal services
- Advising people appearing “in pro per” (i.e., representing themselves in legal proceedings) – however, the client needs to be fully aware of the limitations and give express consent to the limited nature of the attorney-client relationship
MAKE SURE THE SCOPE OF REPRESENTATION IS CLEAR, AND IN WRITING
When you hire a lawyer, make sure you receive a written engagement letter or similar contract that describes the nature (and costs) of the attorney-client relationship in detail. Make sure the lawyer signs the engagement agreement–and make sure you sign it too.
Read the engagement letter thoroughly, and ask about anything you don’t understand. Make sure the contract matches your understanding of the situation, and make sure the scope of representation matches your needs and expectations. While that doesn’t guarantee the lawyer can obtain your desired results (no lawyer can or should guarantee the outcome of legal proceedings–either transactional or in court), it’s important to be sure both you and your lawyer are clear about:
- why the lawyer is representing you
- what the lawyer is trying to help you do
- the nature of the proceedings or actions the lawyer is going to undertake (or try to achieve) on your behalf; and
- the extent and scope of the attorney-client relationship
This gives you–and your lawyer–the best possible chance to establish and maintain a mutually beneficial and helpful attorney-client relationship.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.