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Mass. project allows limited court appearances


blackCheckS update: see our Jan. 1, 2007 posting on Universal Unbundling in California for more information on the benefits of unbundling and the extension of limited representation to all civil cases in California and New Hampshire. 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has okayed a pilot project that would make it easier for lawyers and pro se litigants to enter into limited scope (“unbundled”) representation agreements in Probate and Family Court proceedings.  [via Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites]  As the MA Trial Court Library’s pro se webpage explains:

Beginning November 1, 2006 and continuing for 18 months, attorneys will be permitted to provide limited assistance to pro se litigants in the Hampden [Springfield]  and Suffolk [Boston] Probate and Family Courts only. “The Project will permit attorneys to assist a pro se litigant on a limited basis without undertaking a full representation of the client on all issues related to the legal matter for which the attorney is engaged.” Attorneys may limit the scope of their representation, including appearance and drafting documents.
Unbundling advocates (such as Forrest Mosten) have long argued that such limited-scope representation (or “discrete task lawyering”) is (1) a win-win situation for lawyer and consumer, and (2) already permitted under current ethics rules (e.g. ABA Model Rule 1.2 Scope of Representation; and Comment to Rule 1.1  Competence) .  The rub has been whether courts would prevent a lawyer’s withdrawal from a case once making an appearance on behalf of a party.   The Massachusetts order sets forth a procedure for permitting that withdrawal when the lawyer has been retained on a limited basis.  Similar rules already exist in several states, including:

safetypin – – California: California Rules of Court, Rule 5.70 and Rule 5.71  [update (Nov. 1, 2006): see Calif. Expands Unbundling to All Civil Cases]
– – Florida: Unbundling Rules (discussed in this ABA Journal article   

– – Maine: Bar Rule 3.4(i); Civil Procedure Rules 5, 11 (b) and 89 (a).
– – Nevada: Rules of Practice of the Eighth Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada, Rule 5.2.
– – As shlep has reported, court self-help centers in Idaho and Nevada compile lists of attorneys willing to take family law matters on a limited-scope basis. If you know of similar lists, let us know.



— Click for the NCSC List of State Laws regarding Unbundling. For more, see and the f/k/a posting Six States Address Unbundling in Their Own Ways.  For a smile, see Prof. Alan Childress‘ take on Carolyn Elefant’s food preparation metaphor [hat tip: OotJ‘s Jim Milles]

update (Nov. 27, 2006):  At Legal Profession Blog, Mike Frisch (Georgetown Law’s Ethics Counsel) reports on the state of unbundling in Arizona, saying “Arizona must be included on the survey of states that allows some limited-scope representation and ghost writing of briefs.”  Mike also links to a very useful webpage on Unbundling in Alaska.  Presented by the Alaska Bar, it defines unbundled services and its benefits, and has a very nice listing of the kinds of “discrete tasks” that a lawyer might do for a “limited representation” client — including over a dozen tasks. 

 thumbDownafterthought (Dec. 5, 2006): Things aren’t going so well in New York State.  See our posting “All Bundled Up in New York.



  1. HALT

    October 30, 2006 @ 3:59 pm


    Alaska’s state bar web site also has a list of unbundled family law lawyers.

  2. kenneth vanbuskirk

    November 22, 2006 @ 5:40 pm


    it is about time that Massachusetts did more for the Pro Se litigant.
    this state has been far too neglectful of this issue for too long.

  3. kenneth vanbuskirk

    November 22, 2006 @ 5:44 pm


    for about a year i have been involved in a lawsuit representing myself.
    i have had to endure hostility and abuse from both the court personnel and
    judge. however, the guidelines that massachusetts is proposing are still only proposals, not requirements. it is still left up to the judge and
    court personnel as to how they want to treat a Pro Se litigant. it is a start, but only a start.

  4. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » top Mass. Judge praises pro se efforts, but prefers lawyers for all

    December 2, 2006 @ 3:17 pm


    […]   Noting that 70% of litigants in Housing, Family and Probate Courts appear without counsel, Chief Justice Marshall proudly states that “Massachsetts is emerging as a national leader in addressing the challenges presented by self-represented litigants.”  As examples, she points to the brand new ”limited representation” [unbundling] pilot project in the Probate and Family Courts of two counties (see our prior post) — with the good news that response of the Bar has been “overhwelming, and positive” — and to volunteer Lawyer-for-a-day projects in housing courts.   […]

  5. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » a little more on unbundling

    December 4, 2006 @ 7:34 pm


    […] If you’re interested in what’s happening in the realm of unbundled lawyering, you’ll want to read “Two Massachusetts Courts Unbundle: System hopes to reduce problems from pro se litigants,” in the Dec. 1, 2006 issue of ABAJournal eReport.  In addition to discussing the new Massachusetts pilot project in some detail (see our prior post), the article quotes several experts in the field of limited representation (including weblogger and ABA ethics expert Will Hornsby), covers activities in several states, and ends with two interesting points from unbundling guru Forrest Mosten: “In fact, because of unbundling’s success, Mosten says that in Indiana and other states, legal malpractice insurance carriers are looking to write policies for lawyers to unbundle and are hoping to give lower rates for lawyers trained and competent in the area. […]

  6. teresa

    June 1, 2007 @ 5:08 pm


    “jacket denial” what is it … 06/01 14:01:53

    can you pls tell me what “jacket denial” means? Well, what I really need to know is if I file a “petition for rehearing” in the appellate, or a petition for review in the cal.supr.ct., and how many days do I have to file the petition or review? Or, can I go back to the superior court and file another complaint since my appeals were denied on technicalities?

    Also, the court keeps back-dating entries, e.g., the “jacket denial” has a date of 5/15/07, but it was not there on 5/24/07, and nothing was mailed to me that said “jacket denial.” I did get a one page dismissal with one phrase that said, “appeal denied.” That entry has disappeared from the court docket. My claims are in Los Angeles Sup.Ct. BC-341721 and BC-341498; copy and paste the links below should you wish to read some details. Thank you

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