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WHAT IS LIMITED SCOPE REPRESENTATION?

Posted by Bruce Galloway | Mar 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Limited scope representation (LSR) is not for everyone. If you do not want or cannot afford traditional representation, it will help make your uncontested divorce quicker and easier to handle it on your own.LSR can also keep you from going to court or writing a motion on your own.

What is limited scope representation?The regulators of lawyers decided to allow us to offer this tool, which works best in divorce and custody cases.Basically, it allows you to reduce the costs of your case by paying the lawyer to work your case on a task-by-task basis. This means you are charged a flat fee, instead of an hourly rate, so you know how much you are paying at the very beginning.

This rule change is a big deal.The regulators of lawyers used to forbid lawyers from doing this kind of work.Why?Well, I will give you my opinion.The really large, silk stocking firms who performed work for large corporations, banks and insurance companies wanted hourly fees.They made millions by not charging flat fees.Those large corporations, banks and insurance companies did not want to pay millions extra, so they complained and demanded flat fees.What better way for the silk stocking firm to tell their billion dollar client that you cannot charge flat fees, than to explain that the law firms' regulators will not allow them to do it?What they did not say is, well, we kind of talked the regulators into it—in my opinion. 

So large corporations, banks and insurance companies put a lot of pressure on states to legalize flat fees.I am not making that up.Their push for change was written about in the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, and many other business publications that most people don't read. 

Money talked, in my opinion.One by one, different states began allowing Limited Scope Representation, and one by one their regulators changed the rules to allow LSR.LSR, recall, is all about flat fees.And the fact that one state changed their regulations meant other states followed until it finally hit Missouri.

Let's say Indiana (and I am making this part up) allowed lawyers to charge flat fees. And we are a big, expensive silk-stocking Missouri law firm.Large corporations are taking everything they can to Indiana.The large silk stocking law firms are looking at a chunk of their multi-million dollar business going out of state. Well, now, we can't let that happen. 

And then, gosh what a coincidence, the regulations changed.Hello LSR and flat fees.Missouri's silk stocking firms can keep their business.And that regulation change also helped regular folk.It freed up small law offices that practiced law for regular people to offer LSR.So now we can offer legal services to people that the old regulations excluded from having access to lawyer. And as applied to family law cases, the uncontested divorce got significantly cheaper.And flat fees help people who could not or would not see a lawyer, get access to one.It's a big deal.

Limited Scope Representation (LSR) is a great tool if you need a divorce, you lost your job, and you have very little money, but you don't trust yourself to handle your case by yourself.You must have a cheap divorce. Or, maybe you don't want to use a lawyer (because we're mean and scary) although you are concerned that you might not do it right. 

You also may find going to court by yourself intimidating or at least concerning. In most counties, a person who has an uncontested divorce and uses LSR will not even have to go to court at all.At our office, you don't even have to meet an attorney, just friendly staff who takes your case to an attorney to work on. In my experience, most people use LSR to make their uncontested divorce easier by helping them avoid going back to court because they filled out the forms wrong.   

What forms?The Missouri Supreme Court has forms for divorce and custody cases online.You can find them at the Missouri Supreme Court website.Just click on the quick links tab, and you will find forms for a “do-it-yourself” divorce. 

Why should you need help filling out divorce forms?Well, there are about 69 pages or so of fill-in-the-blank forms.It's hard to get it all down correctly.If you get something wrong and file it with the court, the judge will reject it.Why?Because judges cannot practice law, they can only take evidence and make decisions, or review settlements and decide to accept or reject them.If you don't fill out the forms right, the judge cannot tell you what you did wrong.The judge can only reject your settlement agreement. 

You may think it's a racket to stop people from having quick and easy divorces, but it's not.Judges must be fair and impartial when hearing cases.As soon as the judge starts helping you, even if your spouse is getting the same advice at the same time, the judge is at risk of giving legal advice that may help one of you, but not the other.That sort of thing gets judges into trouble.Big trouble. 

So if a judge rejects your divorce forms, that may be hard to deal with.That's true if you have a job, have kids, just moved and can't afford many trips to the courthouse.Also, you're dealing with your future ex-spouse each and every time you have to go back to the drawing board and figure things out.That's not a lot of fun.Your agreement might turn into an expensive divorce instead of an affordable or easy divorce. 

Let's take look at the case where you and your spouse or (the other parent) agree on everything, but you want a lawyer to look at the forms and make sure you did it right. That's where LSR works best.LSR allows the lawyer to charge a flat fee.In the case where everyone agrees, the most common way limited scope representation works is for the lawyer to charge a fee to review and correct the forms.Another way is for the lawyer to review the forms and tell you what you just agreed to.Or both.For a fee, you answer some questions; the lawyer reviews the forms, and tells you if they will work.For an additional fee, the lawyer will tell you what the terms mean.

Does that sound too cheap?I mean, the lawyer would not be telling everything they know in either situation.Telling you that the forms are completed correctly will not tell you whether you sold the farm for a buck.Also, explaining what you agreed to is not the same as being told whether signing the agreement is a good idea.Traditional representation gives advice.LSR usually does not.That's why it is limited.

With traditional representation, your lawyer, the lawyer's staff, and you may literally spend hours and hours getting and organizing information for your divorce case.Our law office is staffed with people who do this full-time.So the law office is organizing your financial information, tracking down deeds and titles, loan origination documents, bank and investment account statements, credit card statements and loan applications.The good law offices will spend time interviewing witnesses, getting medical or counseling records, researching the other side's criminal history, and the history of their new boyfriend or girlfriend.They also research the law at a detailed level, to give their client's case the winning edge. 

The lawyers research legal theories to gain more time for you to have with your child under a custody plan, increase the amount of support you get or decrease the amount of child support you pay.The list goes on and on because family law is the most complex of the garden variety law suits.Corporate mergers are the most complex.But family sometimes deals with those issues too.Get the picture?There is a lot to a family law case, including knowing what questions to ask, knowing your opponent, and creating a winning trial strategy. LSR won't give you any of that.

But maybe you don't need that because the money you spend on legal fees for traditional representation just can't be paid. Or, you and your spouse came up with something you both think is fair, and you don't want a lawyer to stir the pot.   Limited scope representation will keep your divorce affordable and easy. 

Let's say that you and your spouse earn about the same amount.You both are struggling with money issues.You may not love one another, but you don't hate each other, either.You both know your financial position, and it's not good.You spent your 401(k) to pay the bankruptcy lawyer during the Great Recession.You've got two kids.You don't have $5,000.00 to pay for a lawyer, and Mom and Dad are sure not paying for it.You can't afford to hire a lawyer, that lawyer's staff, that lawyer's expensive law library, and all the expertise that comes with it.What are you going to do?

Limited scope representation, that's what.You have to do the foot work.You must be able to trust that your spouse is not hiding assets.You have to split your possessions, (coffee pots, silverware, the edger, the baseball card collection).You have to get your names off of each other's credit cards.If you have a mortgage, you had better refinance and get the person who gets the house take the loan.You need to work out a custody schedule (called a Parenting Plan).That means you plan for the time when you hate each other, can't agree on anything, and so you go by the plan as written.In short, you and your spouse have to have the honesty and ability to listen and make things work.It's that easy. 

Just like what happened in your failed marriage, huh?Yes, it is a bit difficult.An uncontested divorce requires both spouses to find it within to be patient, clear and civil.With LSR, you and your spouse have to be honest with each other and fill out the forms completely.That way, you take the completed divorce forms to your lawyer, answer the questions the lawyer or staff gives you, and the lawyer can correct or approve the forms.And then you should be done.

Some LSR lawyers prefer to write their own settlement agreements and judgments.Our office does that.We feel we are more likely to get it right because we do it all the time.Also, we guarantee our work and we want to be able to appear before the judge instead of you, if the judge has trouble with it.That's easier if we file it. Also, you do not have to go to court if the court lets us do that. If you think that is a plug for our office, you guessed right.Not all law practices are identical.

Usually for an additional fee, you can have a sit-down meeting with the lawyer, and have the lawyer explain the terms.If you need some additional work performed, like quit claim deeds or gift affidavits, those services can also be purchased.It's a lot like going to your doctor.At the doctor's office, a nurse check marks each service you received, and the fee is added to your bill.Only with LSR, you check mark the services, pay the fee, and we perform the tasks you check-marked.

What's another example of limited scope representation?Let's say you are handling your case, and you are set for trial.You need a motion for continuance, but you really need to win it.You hire a law office, answer the questions, they write the motion and give it to you to file, or file it for you.

An LSR divorce—“uncontested divorce”–will run anywhere from $200 to $1500 depending on where you go.Remember, you get what you pay for with just about anything in life.So don't get the cheapest.Also, go with an office that is reputable and known to practice family law.In my opinion, stay away from internet legal help providers that are out of state.California isn't Missouri, that's for sure.That said, there is nothing wrong with using a local law office that has a web portal.That makes it easier on you.But you want a brick and mortar office behind that portal.Trust me on that one.

When you should NOT handle your case as an LSR:

  • You are a victim of domestic violence.
  • Your child was abused by your spouse.
  • You have significant income.
  • You have significant assets.
  • You have little or no income, but your spouse has significant income.
  • Your spouse kept the books and won't show them to you.
  • You have no assets (you think) but your spouse has a lot of assets.
  • You and your spouse don't agree on how to split the property and debt.
  • You and your spouse don't agree on how to share parenting time.
  • You are uncomfortable with what your spouse wants you to sign.
  • You are not a citizen of the United States
  • You or your spouse has real estate in a different state.

Does that sound like I am trying to talk you out of an easy and quick divorce?I don't mean to do that.But like anything else in life, the less you pay, the less you get. 

That said, our office believes in LSR.We believe a lot of people got ignored by the court system, and we can now help them in addition to our traditional clients.We handle LSR, and I have lectured about it to lawyers in this region. I served on the Supreme Court subcommittee that is trying to get citizens and lawyers to use LSR.I believe it is a good solution for people in a tight position.It's also a good tool for divorcing couples that truly reached a fair agreement.Everyone should have access to the court system regardless of their income.Everyone should have access to an affordable divorce.LSR can make it happen. 

About the Author

Bruce Galloway

Bruce Galloway is a trial and appellate attorney who practices family law and personal injury on behalf of victims of family violence, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, and child abuse and neglect. He works on other family law cases such as divorce and custody matters. His heroes are gr...

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If you need to talk to someone about legal matters involving divorce, custody, domestic violence, child abuse, or other family law issues, please reach out to us right away. Our family law attorneys are ready to listen and advise you on your legal options. Our offices are located right here on the square in downtown Ozark, MO. “The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.”

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