New Illinois Supreme Court rules are allowing attorneys to provide "limited scope" representation to clients.
Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride announced last week that the Illinois Supreme Court has approved a proposal designed to lessen the legal costs in civil cases for clients of limited means.
The proposal deals with a concept known as "limited scope representation" which more than 20 other states also permit. It allows attorneys to provide paid legal services on a portion of a client's legal matter, rather than seeing it through from beginning to end.
By providing services specifically limited by agreement between the lawyer and the client, total legal fees should be more affordable for the client.
Local attorney Esther Cha of Holtzhouser, Shaner and Cha, in Robinson, believes it is a good idea and has already been doing some of this type of work. The Illinois Bar Association has been promoting the idea for a couple of years to encourage more pro-bono work for those who are willing to help fix problems, Cha said.
She explained that traditionally an attorney wants to work on something from "A to Z." Limited scope allows them to complete and bill for a specific task. Cha gave examples of writing up a continuance, or standard legal forms, and reviewing letters or contracts.
Cha also pointed out having an attorney write something is much better than trying to download a form from the Internet that may not apply to your case or be legal in your state. Cha said Internet documents can even cause more problems that will be more costly to fix in the future.
But a downside of parceling out legal services and assigning fees is that it may be more expensive in the long term than hiring the full services of an attorney, Cha said.
The proposal, first made several years ago by the Lawyers Trust Fund, is contained in amendments to three Supreme Court rules. It had the formal support of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois Judges Association, who formed a joint task force to study the matter in detail.
The Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee also held a public hearing on the proposal earlier this year, and widespread support was voiced for the concept there. The Rules Committee also recommended its approval.
"These rules will improve access to Illinois courts for people with limited means," Chief Justice Kilbride said. "The rules enable an attorney to represent a client on a limited part of a lawsuit and then withdraw from the case. The nature of some cases requires full legal representation, but many do not. This will allow lawyers to offer their pro bono services more efficiently, and provide a person the possibility of hiring a lawyer to protect their interests without the burden of paying for complete representation.
"Illinois has a fine judicial system, but it is not perfect. These rules are an example of the Illinois Supreme Court's determination to ensure justice is accessible in Illinois."
Cha said attorneys will still have to be choosy about what they do on a limited scope, but it does give them greater options to serve people.