LIMITED ASSISTANCE REPRESENTATION: A NEW ALTERNATIVE FOR LITIGANTS
In an effort to expand “access to justice” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an order approving "limited assistance representation" (LAR) in all Massachusetts Trial Court Departments. This order, effective May 1, 2009, allows each Trial Court Department Chief Justice, with the approval of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, to determine the scope of LAR permissible within its courts. Subsequently, on May 8, 2009, Paula M. Carey the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court Department announced that LAR had been approved in all Probate and Family Courts throughout the Commonwealth, paving the way for qualified LAR attorneys to represent clients in these courts immediately.
What is LAR?
LAR, also referred to as “unbundling” allows attorneys to assist litigants on a limited basis, carving out a mutually agreed upon scope of representation. The attorney agrees to handle specific tasks or issues and the litigant will be responsible for other elements of the case. “With many families suffering economically, and some court caseloads growing dramatically, it is more important than ever to provide the people of Massachusetts with access to cost-effective, high quality legal assistance” said Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the Supreme Judicial Court.
Why Use LAR?
The LAR lawyer might provide only coaching and education regarding the legal issues being addressed. An attorney may appear in court with the client for some or all of the case. In other cases, attorneys may provide assistance with drafting court documents, financial statements and agreements. By unbundling the array of services often necessary to handle a case from start to finish, a litigant benefits from legal counsel while still participating in the case as he or she is capable. Litigants who might not be able to afford representation for their entire case may now benefit from legal advice and save a substantial amount of money on legal fees.
Litigants are not the only ones benefiting from LAR. Courtrooms are more efficient when litigants are better informed and prepared. “Expansion of limited assistance representation will improve access to and delivery of justice,” said Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan, “This will benefit litigants and judges and should lead to the more timely resolution of cases.”
Attorneys see opportunities as well. LAR allows lawyers to accept cases they might have previously turned away, knowing that the scope of representation can be tailored to provide the client affordable legal assistance. LAR is designed to allow attorneys a great deal of flexibility regarding how fees are paid. Some services will be billed on a flat fee basis, others may be paid on a pay-as-you-go basis, and where retainers are still indicated they are likely to be drastically reduced. LAR attorneys can accept cases with a greater sense of certainty that they will be fully compensated for the services provided. In some instances attorneys may be more inclined to accept pro bono cases, since the scope of representation can be more narrowly defined, providing more certainly regarding the anticipated extent of involvement. Legal services and pro bono organizations benefit as well by being able to increase the number of low-income litigants they serve by using LAR when appropriate.
Does LAR Work?
The Supreme Judicial Court ordered the launch of an eighteen-month LAR pilot program in Hampden and Suffolk Divisions of the Probate and Family Court Department effective November 1, 2006. The pilot program was subsequently expanded to Norfolk County on September 1, 2007. An SJC survey of attorneys participating in the program revealed that litigants were utilizing LAR for in-court appearances as well as out-of-court legal services. Litigants sought legal services most frequently for advice regarding strategic planning and the drafting of court documents. Support with Court appearances and coaching related to the applicable procedural and substantive rules were the second and third most utilized LAR services.
How Do I Get LAR?
In order for a lawyer to provide LAR in the Probate and Family Court, he or she must be complete a training and be qualified by the Court’s administrative office. To better assist litigants in accessing LAR, each court will soon maintain a list of qualified LAR attorneys. While not all cases are appropriate for LAR, it provides an alternative to the estimated 60% to 80% of self-represented litigants who are unable to qualify for free legal assistance and can’t afford full-service legal representation. To discuss whether LAR might be a option for you, please call or e-mail Attorney Holdsworth.
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