Oftentimes, an Illinois family law lawyer will suggest to his client that he or she provide a “limited scope appearance.” A limited scope appearance is exactly what it sounds like: an appearance by an attorney in a case for a very specific issue or hearing, and not for the entirety of the case. Illinois’ Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2(c) allows attorneys to represent clients for a limited purpose or for a specific issue, such as a hearing.
So, you may have an emergency hearing pending but you can’t find an attorney who will do the whole case for you so you consider an attorney for just the hearing or a “limited scope appearance.”
If an attorney is representing a client in a limited scope, procedurally, the attorney is required to file a Notice of Limited Scope Appearance that identifies the aspects of the proceeding that are subject to the limited scope representation. Ill. S. Ct. R. 13(c)(6).
Upon completion of the limited scope representation, e.g. the hearing the attorney was hired by the client to conduct, the attorney must withdraw from the case. The attorney can do this by oral motion or written notice. Ill. S. Ct. R. 13(c)(7).
At this stage, the client may object to the attorney’s withdrawal if they feel the attorney has not completed the limited scope. It’s then up to a judge to determine the completion of the limited scope and whether the attorney is legally authorized to withdraw from the case.
As you may already deduce, this has the potential to cause many issues. The positives of limited scope appearances are obvious: you have an attorney who will represent the client for just a specific purpose, providing the client with the right expertise at the right time. The client does not have to pay an attorney for the entirety of the case. It’s essentially a cost-saving mechanism. But at what cost?
In my experience, limited scope appearances are not a good idea. This is because limited scope appearances, despite their allure, have negative qualities. You may have additional court dates for the attorney to withdraw from the case. The attorney may have to get familiar with the entire case even if the hearing is for a singular, specific purpose. The attorney can expend a lot of time and money doing that holistic research, even if they are helping with just one aspect of the case.
Seldom are cases piecemeal. Issues can be piecemeal, but most are usually intertwined or connected enough where global resolutions are key. Resolving one issue may require knowledge of all issues, so that this moving part does not affect other moving parts. At this stage, if an attorney is going to expend time and resources getting to the know the case so intimately, why not have them represent you in the entire proceeding?
Another issue with limited scope appearances are that the lines are blurry. If the scope was, represent client at hearing for child support. At the child support hearing, a temporary order was issued and the parties were ordered to do discovery, with the issue of permanent support being continued out again, now is the attorney on the hook for the duration? Is the attorney responsible for the discovery or is this outside of the limited scope? The hearing has been continued, and the attorney was retained for the hearing, but cannot withdraw from the case, since the hearing has not “concluded”. So is the attorney just along for the ride while other issues in the case come up? These can cause issues for clients and attorneys, and can become messy, even if ultimately it is possible.
That’s why, although a good tool in other areas of litigation, I don’t generally recommended hiring an attorney for limited scope representation in domestic relations cases. If you are financially able to afford an attorney for the entire case, you are best off letting a professional do the entire job.