Discrete Task Representation

What is a Discrete Task Assistance Program? The idea of “unbundling,” or limited scope representation, is the situation in which an attorney assists a client with part of a legal matter, while coaching the client to self-represent on the simpler aspects. It may be as simple coaching a self-represented litigant on court procedures, ghostwriting or assistance with document preparation, or even appearing in court for a limited purpose.  Such a division of labor must be based on an individualized diagnosis of the client’s situation

Why Courts Might Help Start a Discrete Task Assistance Program? The vast majority of individual litigants cannot afford full service representation. Unprepared litigants increase the burden on the court in the form of incorrect documents, ignorance of procedures, and repeated continuances. Self-represented litigants consume a disproportional amount of staff and judicial time. By providing quality coaching, well-drafted documents and assisting in the more complex aspects of a legal matter, limited scope attorneys help streamline the process and reduce the burden on courts and their staff. While the bar is often the most critical player in the establishment of such a program, courts can play a critical leadership role – including in the passage of possibly needed rules changes, and ensuring that courts support the divison of labor agreed to by client and counsel.   Such programs also facilitate pro bono by making it easier to deploy attorney-of-the-day programs.

General Resources:

ABA House of Delegates adopts resolution on limited scope representation.

Twenty Things Judicial Officers Can Do to Encourage attorneys to Provide Limited Scope Representation. California Administrative Office of the Courts. (2001).

Pro Se/Unbundling Resource Center . This web site, hosted by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, includes a bibliography of articles, books, case law, ethics opinions, and court rules related to unbundled legal services.

Unbundling Legal Services: Options for Clients, Courts and Counsel (2015). This collection of resources resulted from a collaboration between the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS).

Johnson, Amy Dunn. (September 2014). Unbundled Legal Services: A Revolution Whose Time Has Come. The Arkansas Lawyer.

Broderick, John T. Jr. and Ronald M. George. A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers. New York Times (January 2010). Forty-one states, including California and New Hampshire, have adopted a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association, or similar provisions, which allow lawyers to unbundle their services and take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice known as “limited-scope representation” that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities.

An Analysis of Rules That Enable Lawyers to Serve Pro Se Litigants . A White Paper by the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (November 2009). 

State Resources:

To compare the current and evolving state of court rules on this topic see the Unbundling Rules statelink.


Limited Scope Representation.  Alabama Access to Justice Commission.


State Bar to look at limited-practice licensing program California Bar Journal (February 2013)


Colorado adopts appellate limited scope representation rule.


Notice of Limited Appearance Pilot Program Family Matters and Family Support Magistrate Matters

Navarro, Alejandra. Law a la Carte: Unbundled services increase access to justice and courtroom efficiency. Quinnipiac Law. (Spring 2012). This article discusses a proposal from the Connecticut Bar Association and a working group from the state’s Judicial Branch to change the Connecticut Practice Book to allow limited scope representation.


Louisiana Supreme Court adopts new district court rules on limited appearances.    Effective January 2013.


Greiner, D. James, Pattanayak, Cassandra Wolos and Hennessy, Jonathan Philip, How Effective Are Limited Legal Assistance Programs? A Randomized Experiment in a Massachusetts Housing Court (March 12, 2012). The authors found ”no statistically significant evidence that the service provider's offer of full, as opposed to limited, representation had a large (or any) effect on the likelihood that the occupant would retain possession, on the financial consequences of the case, on judicial involvement in or attention to cases, or on any other litigation-related outcome of substantive import.”

Barter, Andrea R. Limited Assistance Representation Pilot Program Receives High Marks, Expands, Lawyers Weekly Journal (January 2008). This article discusses a pilot program in the Hampden and Suffolk Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts.


Grunfeld, David I.  Ghostwriting:  Limited Scope Agreements Are Allowed Under Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct.  The Philadelphia Lawyer.  (Spring 2012). This article discusses an opinion released jointly by the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association on limited scope representation.