Rule 1.2(c) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct permits lawyers to enter into limited-scope engagements, in which you can agree with the client that you will be providing only certain designated legal services, and not the full scope of services that might ordinarily be expected in an engagement of that sort. The rule is a way to help clients control costs when all they want or need is limited representation.
Over at The Legal Profession Blog, there is a report about a disciplinary case in which the Minnesota Supreme Court invoked Rule 1.2 in reversing a lawyer’s admonishment for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The lawyer had agreed with his client in a collaborative divorce case that the scope of services would include the lawyer’s appearance at only one hearing, in exchange for a flat fee. When the lawyer failed to appear at subsequent post-divorce-decree hearings, the trial court filed a disciplinary complaint, although it had previously noted after the first hearing that the lawyer was no longer counsel of record.
The disciplinary panel found that the lawyer should have informed the court that his agreement with the client excluded court appearances. On review, the state supreme court disagreed, in large part because the client “instructed [the lawyer] not to attend the hearings pursuant to the terms of a limited-scope legal representation, the propriety of which” was unchallenged.
The reversal of the lawyer’s admonishment is the right outcome here; there was no suggestion that the limitation on the scope of the services was unreasonable, or that the client’s informed consent was lacking.
According to Prof. Mike Frisch, at The Legal Profession Blog, disciplinary opinions acknowledging the efficacy of Rule 1.2 are not common. This one underscores the advantage of a clear engagement letter, and the importance of describing just what services you will and will not provide. That’s a good watchword for any engagement — here, it helped save a lawyer from discipline.