Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Limited Assistance Representation

This economy has placed those seeking divorce or assistance with domestic relations matters in a very difficult position when it comes to hiring an attorney. First, financial matters greatly impact all relationships and are often the cause of divorce or child support modifications. Unfortunately, this also means that obtaining legal assistance becomes seemingly impossible, as there are limited funds available.

A good option for individuals or families with more limited means who desperately need legal assistance is Limited Assistance Representation (LAR). Originally started as a pilot program out of Hampden, Suffolk and Norfolk counties, LAR has expanded to all Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts.  LAR allows attorneys to assist individuals with their domestic relations matters on a limited basis, without filing a general appearance. In essence, this means that an attorney can help someone draft legal documents, respond to discovery requests, and complete other legal writing. An LAR attorney can also appear in court on a specific matter by filing a Notice of Limited Appearance, with a Withdrawal on the same day.

By using LAR, an individual gains the assistance of counsel as s/he is able to afford it. Further, all agreements with regards to the scope of assistance by the attorney are made in advance and in writing, so there is no confusion as to how much or how little an attorney will do.

Many attorneys are taking advantage of LAR and also offering reduced rates for doing so. However, both attorneys and clients should proceed very carefully when entering into an LAR agreement. First, while an individual may only need assistance on specific matters (such as drafting a motion or appearing at one hearing), it is imperative that a complete copy of all documents filed in the matter be provided to the attorney for his or her review. Even if an attorney's assistance is limited to the drafting of one document, the attorney must be fully aware of all aspects of the case so that correct and thorough legal advice is provided. Second, it is common for other issues to arise during a court hearing that were not spelled out in court documents or pleadings. If an LAR attorney does not know the details or history of a case, they will not be able to provide as complete and thorough representation as they could. Third, the lines of where LAR ends and pro se representation begins can become blurry for the court and for the opposing counsel or party. This may mean that documents are sent to multiple individuals, the LAR attorney is contacted instead of the client, or vice versa. This is why a clear agreement between the LAR attorney and the client is so important; it provides both parties with the ability to clearly advise the court and opposing parties of the scope of representation, in order to minimize confusion. Last, the cost of LAR can quickly rise, especially if an individual ends up needing more assistance than anticipated. However, regular statements and amendments to the LAR agreement can help predict the overall cost of work and prevent surprises.

All possible problems aside, Limited Assistance Representation is a great alternative to those needing legal advice and assistance, but who have limited means and cannot retain general counsel. For more information on LAR, please look at this information from the Probate and Family Court Department, and don't hesitate to contact Attorney Wons for a consultation.

(c) 2014 The Law Office of Leila J. Wons. The information contained herein is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship and does not constitute legal advice.
In accordance with rules established by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this blog must be labeled "advertising."

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