What are A La Carte Legal Services?

A la Carte Legal Services are more commonly called “limited scope representation” or “unbundled legal services”. These are legal services that are limited by task or duration and defined in scope. The work associated with the legal representation is broken down into tasks that are divided between you and the lawyer. You assume responsibility for the steps you wish to complete, and the lawyer is responsible for those tasks you hire her for.

For example, if you hired a lawyer to provide full service representation in a divorce, that lawyer would draft all pleadings, coordinate all communications with the court and between lawyers for each party, manage the relationship with experts hired to prove aspects of your case, appear at all court hearings, provide legal analysis and guidance, and do all other services needed to complete your case.

In A la Carte Legal Services, you, with the lawyer’s help, decide the services you need based on your situation and your budget.

There are some advantages to this — your retainer is smaller with limited scope services. You do most of the work for your case. You are responsible for managing your case. Your lawyer will only interact with the other party or other attorney on the limited issue you hired her to help you with.

But there are also disadvantages — you will need to interact with your partner/spouse and their lawyer for services you did not employ your lawyer for. Additionally, limited scope costs more than coaching and it does require a retainer.

A la Carte services work well when you are confident about managing your case, and there are only parts of the case you need help with. Some cases can be too complex or too complicated to fit this model, and if so, a full service representation model may be more appropriate for you.

What is “Full Service Representation”?

Full service is the traditional way most people work with lawyers. You hire a lawyer to be “attorney of record” with the court. Your lawyer takes the lead on all aspects of your case, and performs all services he feels are necessary for representation. His name appears is on all the paperwork filed with the court. All pleadings and correspondence come directly to him.

There are some advantages — you do very little work. Your lawyer does most of the work. You will not have to worry about deadlines or how to interact with the court or the other lawyer because your lawyer will do this for you.

But there are also disadvantages — this service model costs more and requires a larger retainer, or money up front. Additionally, some people enjoy taking charge of their legal affairs and handling their case on their own with just limited assistance.

What is Legal Coaching & Consultation?

If you use coaching, all coaching and consultation is done in the lawyer’s office. You manage your own case outside the lawyer’s office. You may hire a limited scope lawyer to walk you through the legal process, assist you with questions, help you develop strategies for negotiation, review documents you prepare, and more. Then you appear at your mediation and/or in court on your own.

There are some advantages to this model – You can save money by using coaching & consultation. With the coaching & consultation model, no advance fee deposit is required. You pay for services as you receive them. You can hire Nancy to do a one-time consultation or to provide on-going coaching. You remain in complete control of your case. You move your case along with your own strategy.

But there are disadvantages too. You are responsible for managing your case and doing all of the work. You must keep track of deadlines and interact with the other party or their lawyer. The advice your lawyer gives you is only as good as the information you give her. If you forget to give your lawyer some important information or give inaccurate information, her advice may be incorrect.

Simple cases work well with coaching. We do not recommend coaching if the opposing party has hired an attorney.

How do I pay for A la Carte Legal Services?

Generally, you will pay a flat fee that is quoted up-front. Some A la Carte services are hourly and you will receive a price quote for each service. Either way, you remain in control of when you need the lawyer’s help.

How do I know if my case is appropriate for A la Carte Legal Services?

A la Carte legal services are not for everyone. This service might not be right for you if:

  • You are very busy with work and family and don’t have extra time to manage your case
  • You struggle with organizing legal documents, or just don’t feel confident putting all the information together
  • You are not comfortable representing yourself in court
  • You do not want to have contact with your partner/spouse and/or their lawyer
  • You feel as if your partner/spouse has too much control or power over you
  • You have a complex case and expect extended litigation

What happens if I later need more services from the limited-scope lawyer?

New issues frequently come up in legal matters. You may want more help from the lawyer than you originally expected. If you go la carte, you can always go back to the lawyer and ask for more assistance. Your lawyer will already be familiar with you and your case because of her prior involvement. This will be much more efficient than trying to find another lawyer to help you and then educate her about your case. Remember, you are paying for your lawyer’s time, so it is very inefficient to keep paying new lawyers to learn about your legal issues.

What if my spouse has a lawyer and I have a coach?

Many people decide that they would rather represent themselves, even if the other side has a lawyer. Your coach, or limited-scope lawyer, can prepare you for what to expect in court, can advise you of your legal rights and the most effective way to protect them, and outline possible negotiation strategies for you. Your lawyer can also negotiate for you to try to settle the case outside of court, even though you intend to represent yourself in court if the negotiations fail.

I have a child support or spousal support case. Is limited scope a good idea for me?

In deciding if you can go a la carte for a child support or spousal support case and whether you will be able to handle the rest of the case on your own, consider:

  • Is the income of both of you easy to determine (as in a W-2, paystub or some other available document)?
  • How likely is it that there is additional income from other sources that must be discovered or evaluated?
  • How difficult is it going to be to get the information necessary to prove the additional income?
  • Will you need to subpoena records or take depositions?
  • Is it likely that an outside party will have to go over records to find missing income? Does this need to be a lawyer? A paralegal? An accountant?
  • Does the earning spouse recognize a responsibility to pay support, even if you don’t agree with how much?
  • Is there a history of domestic violence?

If, in thinking about these questions you realize there may be a lot of complications in your case, limited-scope representation may not be right. But talk to a lawyer to make sure.

I have a child custody case. Is limited scope a good idea for me?

In deciding if you can go a la carte for a child custody case and whether you will be able to handle the rest of the case on your own, consider:

  • Is there a dispute about custody of your children? Parenting time, visitation or time-sharing? Where they go to school? To church?
  • Is the disagreement likely to be resolved by mediation?
  • Is a formal evaluation likely to be required?
  • Is it likely that you will have a contested trial?
  • What kinds of witnesses or evidence are likely to be presented by your side? By the other parent's?
  • Does one of you want to take the children and move away?
  • Are there contentions that one of you is an unfit parent?
  • Does either side allege domestic violence against the other parent or the children?

If, in thinking about these questions you realize there may be a lot of complications in your case, limited-scope representation may not be right. But talk to a lawyer to make sure.

I have a case involving property. Is limited scope a good idea for me?

In deciding if you can go a la carte for a case involving property and whether you will be able to handle the rest of the case on your own, consider:

  • What kinds of property do you have to divide:
    • Real property (land and buildings),
    • Personal property (furniture, appliances, etc.),
    • Employee benefits (pensions, 401(k) plans, IRA accounts),
    • Stocks and bonds,
    • Business interests, or
    • Other types of property.
  • Are there any special problems with any of these items or property?
  • Was any of the property inherited?
  • For each kinds of property, what witnesses or documentary evidence will be required to present your case and what is the best way to develop it?
  • Do you suspect your spouse/partner of hiding assets? How do you propose to find them?
  • Is there a premarital agreement that impacts division of property or support rights?
  • Is the date of separation in dispute?
  • Is there pre-marital or inherited property that has been invested in any part of the marital estate/community?
  • Is there a history of domestic violence?

If, in thinking about these questions you realize there may be a lot of complications in your case, limited-scope representation may not be right. But talk to a lawyer to make sure.