Back in 2003 the Florida Supreme Court approved the use of “unbundled” legal services, also known as "limited representation," "discrete task representation," or “a la carte” representation in family law cases. By doing so, the Supreme Court wanted to increase effective, efficient, and meaningful access to justice for otherwise unrepresented litigants.
The Florida Supreme Court found that "[a]pproximately 65% of initial filings in domestic relations cases involve self-represented litigants and 80% of post-judgment proceedings in domestic relations cases involve at least one unrepresented litigant." Further, according to a study of domestic relations cases conducted in Dade County, although 65% of initial filings began with at least one party unrepresented, by the time of the final judgment that percentage is up to 85%.
As the number of family court filings and post-judgment matters continue to skyrocket, the Supreme Court wishes to enhance judicial productivity and conserve judicial resources. It recognizes that "an overwhelmingly large percentage of litigants in family law matters are unrepresented."
The stated goal of the Florida Supreme Court in adopting rules to address unbundled legal services is to allow individuals in family law cases to contract to receive legal assistance or limited in-court representation on specific portions of their cases.
The Supreme Court emphasized that the attorney should make sure that the consumer should understand that the scope of the limited representation. It is important that the attorney prevent unrealistic expectations, especially in connection with the extent of the attorney's role during in-court proceedings. An attorney who decides to offer limited in-court representation in a family law matter must ensure that the self-represented litigant understands the limitations of the attorney's obligations.
For example, prior to contracting for limited representation, the attorney should advise the litigant that the attorney's ethical obligations are limited to the representation for which the attorney was retained. The attorney does not have an ethical obligation to the client outside the scope of the attorney agreement. Thus, if a litigant retains an attorney for one issue to be addressed at a hearing and the litigant plans to argue on a different issue at the hearing, the attorney should not interject himself or herself into the litigant's argument even if the feels that there is a better way to argue the issue.
Further, the attorney should inform the client that if during the proceedings the litigant decides he or she would like the attorney to take over another portion of the litigant's case for which the attorney was not initially retained, the client will need to execute a second consent form that encompasses the new portion of the case, and that such a broadening of the representation may come with extra costs or fees.
For instance, when an attorney files a limited notice of appearance, which specifically reflects he was only representing the party a domestic violence action, the lawyer is not counsel of record in the dissolution of marriage case, and it is not error for the trial court to find that the attorney is otherwise disqualified to represent the consumer in his or her dissolution of marriage.
If you are in need of legal services, or have further questions about Family Law, contact Tampa Bay family lawyer Jackson Hilliard, Esq. at (813)283-1715.