Q. May a lawyer provide a limited scope of representation that includes the preparation of legal forms online?
A. ABA Model Rule 1.2(c) and its state counter-parts permit the limited scope of representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent to the limitation. The limited scope of representation, or unbundling, appears to be an increasingly common way for lawyers to deliver their services, both with the use of technology and in a more traditional setting.
It is important that lawyers understand that unbundled legal services are to be done pursuant to the attorney-client relationship and therefore must be in compliance with the rules of professional conduct in general. See, for example, North Carolina State Bar 2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 10 (Jan. 20, 2006).
A lawyer may provide online forms as part of an unbundled service, but must also be mindful of the lawyer’s other professional responsibilities when doing so. In particular, a lawyer must provide competent legal services when providing unbundled services. According to the North Carolina opinion, the lawyer must make the same inquiries, engage in the same level of communication and take the same precautions as a competent lawyer does in an office setting.
The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has created a website encouraging the provision of unbundled legal services and assisted pro se representation. The Standing Committee believes unbundling is an important part of making legal services available to people who could not otherwise afford a lawyer. The website also has compiled a list of state ethics opinions addressing limited scope representation. See http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/delivery/home.html