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Limiting the Scope of Representation in Family Court Proceedings

Limiting the Scope of Representation in Family Court Proceedings

Published July 01, 2020, on Law.com and New York Law Journal

In matrimonial matters, there is no right to counsel. Thus, low-income individuals with marital disputes in court must either qualify for free legal assistance or represent themselves. One solution to this is “unbundled” legal services, also known as “limited scope representation.” This article discusses the issues involved when attorneys assist pro se litigants.

The right to counsel in a criminal case is a fundamental constitutional right. In matrimonial matters, there is no such right. Thus, low-income individuals with marital disputes in court must either qualify for free legal assistance or represent themselves without the benefit of counsel. One solution to this is “unbundled” legal services, also known as “limited scope representation,” which involves a lawyer’s provision of discrete, selected services to a client who does not want the lawyer’s services for all aspects of a matter (Representation, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)). Under this approach, attorneys assist only with selected aspects of a legal problem.

Generally, there are three situations in which a lawyer may assist a pro se litigant. She may consult with the litigant prior to or after the commencement of the action; she may assist a litigant with drafting papers and pleadings prior to or in connection with a pending action, or she may be retained by the litigant to commence or appear in an action for a limited purpose.

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